When is an apology not an apology? When Michele Bachmann makes it.
Bachmann’s strength comes from her much-touted Tea Party alliances, which was part of what made her recent gaffe – confusing New Hampshire and Massachusetts during a speech in the Granite State about the start of the Revolutionary War – so embarrassing. (Well, that, and her history of saying things that are either outrageous or flat wrong .) But at least as striking as the error itself have been Bachmann’s attempts to recover, delivered with characteristic defensiveness, deflection, and too-sharp humor. By my count, she’s mentioned the mistake at least three times now, and each time her apology gets smaller and her outrage at perceived political enemies gets bigger. A little chronology:
First was her Facebook follow-up to the gaffe, allowing that she’d "misplaced the battles Concord and Lexington by saying they were in New Hampshire. It was my mistake, Massachusetts is where they happened. New Hampshire is where they are still proud of it!"
Good recovery, if she’d left it alone. But six hours later she apparently decided she’d shown too much humility. She added another status update: "And by the way ... That will be the last time I borrow President Obama's teleprompter!"
Bachmann’s most recent nonapology was on the Laura Ingraham Show . "I made a mistake," she said. But she also suggested she’d been singled out for criticism , accusing Obama of making similar gaffes and adding that "as we all know, the 3,400 members of the mainstream media are part of the Obama press contingent. … Only if a conservative makes a misstep is it considered interesting."
I’d like to offer an alternative to Bachmann’s theory. There are two things quite likely to keep a politician’s error alive. One, a history of provocative statements that makes the gaffe in question part of a larger narrative. And, two, a failure to take responsibility for the mistake and thereby put it to rest. But maybe Bachmann gets more mileage with her constituency by keeping alive the notion that she’s an underdog.