By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — I am sorry.
I am sorry that so many people have been making insincere apologies. I hasten to add that I am not to blame for these terrible apologies, but I regret them deeply, all the same.
Chris Christie is terribly sorry that his staff lied to him about things they did without his knowledge, and he feels remorse that the partisan media are targeting him with a witch hunt.
Bob McDonnell is really sorry that an overzealous federal prosecutor is going after him for doing perfectly legal things.
And Glenn Beck feels just awful that people were so “fragile” that they allowed his rhetoric to tear the country apart.
Listening to the non-apologies and finger-pointing brings to mind George W. Bush’s long-ago vow to change a culture that says “if it feels good, do it; if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else.”
That didn’t happen, I regret to say.
Christie’s problem is the fault of MSNBC, McDonnell’s problem is the fault of the U.S. attorney, and the damage caused by Beck is the fault of the people who listened to him — and besides, he says, he didn’t have a choice.
Christie at least began with a nominal acceptance of responsibility. Even as he pleaded innocence in the bridge scandal — “I’m telling you: I had nothing to do with this” — he acknowledged that, at least in the technical sense of being New Jersey’s chief executive, “I’m ultimately responsible.” But this changed on Jan. 18, when his office issued a statement saying the mushrooming scandal was the fault of the liberal media.
“MSNBC is a partisan network that has been openly hostile to Governor Christie and almost gleeful in their efforts attacking him,” the statement said. It also said the burgeoning accusations of intimidation by Christie’s administration mean “partisan politics are at play here.” Ultimately, the scale of the Christie administration’s wrongdoing will be sorted out by a federal prosecutor. But, as McDonnell made clear, a federal prosecutor is just another person who can be blamed for one’s own transgressions.
The former Virginia governor, indicted along with his wife days after leaving office in a corruption scandal involving gifts from businessman Jonnie Williams, issued a statement saying he would “prevail against this unjust overreach of the federal government.” Said McDonnell: “I deeply regret accepting legal gifts and loans from Mr. Williams, all of which have been repaid with interest.” He then went on television to say “I did nothing illegal for Mr. Williams in exchange for what I believe was his personal friendship and his generosity.”
Uh-huh. The “generosity” included a shopping spree for the first lady at Oscar de la Renta ($10,999), Louis Vuitton ($5,685), and Bergdorf Goodman ($2,604), a $50,000 loan without documentation, $15,000 for his daughter’s wedding, the use of a vacation home and Ferrari, the Rolex inscribed “71st Governor of Virginia,” the hot-tub cover, the deck staining, a Cape Cod vacation, yacht charter and golf outings. By total coincidence, the benefactor allegedly got help with state scientific researchers and support at various company events — including a product launch at the governor’s mansion.
But McDonnell, who gallantly rejected a plea deal that would have spared his wife, blames the feds.
This brings us to Beck, who on Tuesday night went on his former network and told Megyn Kelly that, before Fox News dropped him in 2011, “I made an awful lot of mistakes … I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart.”
Ya think? The nightly Nazi metaphors, the routine race-baiting and sponsorship of conspiracy theories and apocalyptic visions that, it appears, drove some to desperate violence? But hold on: Beck said the real trouble was that he “didn’t realize how really fragile the people were. I thought we were kind of a little more in it together.” In a follow-up interview on his online network, the Blaze, he further absolved himself, asserting that “there’s no way that I could have done it any different than I did.”
Beck is nothing if not adaptable. He was a ponytail-wearing liberal before he saw a commercial opening in conservative talk radio. Now that an improving economy has cast doubt on his end-times visions, he’s recasting himself again. Last week, he unveiled a new mission statement for the Blaze: “We tell stories of love and courage where the good guys win.” He devoted a radio show last week to “three classic Frank Sinatra songs you need to hear.”
And now we’re supposed to believe he’s genuine?
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist.