In Cheyenne, Wyo., after much criticism for his...

ON OCT. 25

November 16, 1991|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

ON OCT. 25 in Cheyenne, Wyo., after much criticism for his conduct during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings involving Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, Sen. Al Simpson confessed to being "a bit too cocky, and arrogant, yeah, too smart by half, too thin-skinned."

He implied he agreed at least to a degree with those who "equated [me] with [Joe] McCarthy, sleaze, slime, smarmy, evil, ugly, mean-spirited, vindictive, the slasher, menacing and much, much more." He said it was time he made "an honest reassessment" of his political style.

I consider that an apology, which is pretty rare in politics.

The next day in Boston, Sen. Edward Kennedy made a speech that was widely advertised in advance as an apology for his general behavior.

He said, "I recognize my own shortcomings -- the faults in the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them. Today, more than ever before, I believe each of us as individuals must not only struggle to make a better world, but to make ourselves better, too. And in this life, those endeavors are never finished."

I'd called that a faux apology. Note that he says he'll "confront" his unenumerated faults but not necessarily abandon them. In fact, that line about "never finished" suggests he may keep on keepin' on.

Last Sunday on Meet the Press, Edwin Edwards was asked if he would like to take the opportunity to pledge to the voters of Louisiana that if re-elected governor he would give up the gambling, womanizing and cronyism that got him in so much trouble in the past.

He said (1) he never gambled "with friends," and (2) "I'm going to discontinue this frivolous attitude I've had about womanizing."

Since he ignored cronyism, and since being not frivolous about womanizing could mean he intends more of it more seriously pursued, I'd put his response in the "defiance" category rather than the "apology" or "mend my ways" category.

Maybe semi-defiance. True defiance is rare. James Curley, who was elected mayor of Boston four times (and defeated six times), governor of Massachusetts once (and lost twice), who spent time in jail and in prison, and beat a lot of other criminal raps, was the model defier. He confessed all in his autobiography at the end of his career -- and entitled the book, "I'd Do It Again."

Curley was the model for the main character, Frank Skeffington, in Edwin O'Connor's novel, "The Last Hurrah." Based on the Curley attitude summed up in the autobiography, O'Connor wrote a wonderful last moment. A doctor prematurely indicates that Skeffington is dead. A voice comes from the group surrounding the death bed: "Knowing what he knows now, if he had it to do all over again, there's not the slightest doubt but that he'd do it all very, very differently."

Skeffington suddenly opens his eyes wide, rises up and says, "The hell I would!"

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