There is only one thing worse than a stupid political statement: the inevitable political apology.
Gov. Bev Perdue, House Speaker Terrible Thom Tillis and former country music star Bosephus Williams all made dumb comments recently, and they all responded to the backlash by apologizing.
Dadgummit. Can't people say dumb stuff and stick by it? Am I the only one who sees something perversely honorable in steadfast stupidity?
A betting man would wager Perdue was merely being hyperbolic when she told a Rotary Club that perhaps Congress should suspend elections for two years so its members could concentrate on important issues without their judgment being clouded by political considerations. Even if she were clearly joking, in this political climate people seize on any statement that can be misconstrued or used to elicit an embarrassing apology.
I asked Bruce Lapenson, a political science professor at N.C. Central University, if apologies accomplish anything besides giving stories an extra ride on the news cycle.
"It depends on the political winds, on how popular the person is," Lapenson said. In Perdue's case, that is "not very," he said. She, like President Barack Obama, upon whose coattails she was swept into office, "has been on the defensive since she stepped into office." Thus, opponents are apt to take a tongue-in-cheek remark and try to portray her as Fidel Castro's handmaiden.
He said Bill Clinton survived impeachment for his sexual peccadilloes because he apologized and was popular. He and I agreed, almost simultaneously, that an unpopular politician would be vilified for a "joke" such as the one President Ronald Reagan made in 1984 and survived - "I've signed legislation that outlaws Russia. We begin bombing in five minutes."
Just imagine the firestorm if the White House's current occupant made such a joke.
On second thought, don't. It's too painful to imagine.
Ronnie Baby didn't know the mike was on and was obviously kidding, but there is no way to say Rep. Thom Tillis was kidding when he suggested denying unemployed single mothers public assistance. Nor is there the slightest likelihood that Hank Williams Jr. was being mirthful when he, in essence, called Obama "Hitler."
During that same nonsensical rant, Hankie also called Obama and Vice President Joe Biden "the three stooges," so in a court of law he wouldn't be held accountable for anything that ushered forth from his beard. Lapenson said many apologies are made under duress, "begrudgingly, with a wink" toward their constituents.
Pending elections always become silly season, but politicians trying to appeal to a certain segment of the electorate are finding that this time around, they are going to have to plunge even deeper into the depths of dumbness to pander to some voters.
The inexplicable legitimacy given the presidential aspirations of Herman Cain, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman, among others, proves H.L. Mencken was right: No one ever went broke underestimating the American public's intelligence.
And cynical politicians know it. For instance, Florida Congressman Brad Drake recently called for electrocuting or shooting death row inmates because lethal injections are too humane. He'll probably be insincerely apologizing soon, too, but he knows the same voters who believed Obama approved death squads to kill old people will endorse the death squat bill he introduced.
In a speech about dividing and conquering welfare recipients into the deserving and the undeserving, Tillis said, "We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy" - Gee, Thommy, is that how infirm one must be to qualify for assistance? - "and had no choice in her condition."
With every Republican channeling Reagan, it was inevitable that they'd reach deep into the Gipper's playbook and start blaming mythical welfare queens for the country's woes. Just ask yourself, though: Do you think Tillis really, as he later said, feels he "made a poor choice of words" with the verbal volleys he fired at poor people?
You did notice he disavowed the words without disavowing the sentiment?
Speaking of disavowing the words, I stated in a column last week that Durham voters had greeted the perennial campaigns of Victoria Peterson with a "thanks, but no, thanks."
Turns out in last week's election for Durham City Council, enough people said "thanks" to qualify her for next month's general election.
You go, girl.