The three types of apologies and Illinois Senate Candidate Mark Kirk (R)

Apologies fall into three categories. Category 1 is the defiant apology: “I’m sorry if you think I did something wrong.”

Category 2 is the evasive apology: “I may have made an innocent mistake, and I’m sorry for it—if I actually did it.”

And there’s Category 3, the apology that’s so rare in politics it doesn’t yet have a name: “I did something wrong, and I’m sorry for it.” This used to be just called an apology, but the other types of apology make the old name inadequate. Just as technology made us replace “phone” with “dial phone,” and mail with “snail mail,” politics makes us put an adjective in front of “apology.” Call it the real apology.

Republican Senate candidate Mark Kirk of Illinois had a lot to apologize for. A month ago he apologized to the Chicago Tribune for a pile of whoppers about his 21-year record as a Navy Reserve intelligence officer: He had not come under fire in Iraq as claimed; had not participated in Operation Desert Storm; had not won the Navy’s award for intelligence officer of the year; had not commanded the Pentagon war room, and had not served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

His apology was Category 2: “I am sorry, absolutely. You should speak with utter precision. You should stand on the documented military record. In public discourse, for high office, you should make sure that there is a degree of complete rigorous precession.” [While it’s risky to try to translate mumbo-jumbo, I think he meant one should speak with precision.]

But Kirk had more to apologize for. He followed up his earlier Cat 2 apology with another invention, claiming he had never violated Defense Department policies. After the Pentagon said Kirk had twice violated military policies by politicking on active duty, Kirk acknowledged being “counseled” about the issue. Yesterday was time for another Cat 2 apology, a modified limited hangout statement, as the Nixonians used to say:

“I have made mistakes concerning certain aspects of my accomplishments and experiences, and I apologize for those mistakes and I pledge to correct those errors. I am not perfect and was careless. I will do better and I will make sure this never happens again.”

Kirk’s opponent in the Senate race, Alexi Giannoulias trashed the idea that Kirk had made “mistakes.” His campaign accused Kirk of “a pattern of lies, plain and simple,” repeated too often to be mere mistakes.

Of course Kirk isn’t the only Senate candidate to lie about his background and evade responsibility with a Cat 2 apology. After lying for years about having served in Vietnam, when outed Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Democrat candidate for the Senate, fudged this way:

“I may have misspoken—I did misspeak on a few occasions out of hundreds, and I will not allow anyone to take a few of those misplaced words and impugn my record of service.”

Tomorrow we’ll cover a doozy of a Category 1 apology and go looking for a Cat 3—a real one.

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