Sorry seems to be the hardest word for GOP

February 15, 2005|By G. Jefferson Price III

WHAT IS IT about prominent Republicans that makes them incapable of apologizing?

For the last two years, we've been waiting for an apology from President Bush for misleading us about the reasons for going to war against Iraq.

That's a big deal.

Now we're waiting for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to say he's sorry because a member of his administration aggressively nurtured and spread repulsive lies about Mayor Martin O'Malley and a phony-baloney affair Mr. O'Malley did not have.

Relatively, that's not such a big deal. The casualties of Mr. Bush's war in Iraq are enormous. The casualties from the contemptible campaign of Joseph F. Steffen Jr., the Ehrlich aide who gleefully put the dirty talk on the Web, are not that many. But they are some of the most decent people in Maryland.

Mayor O'Malley, for one, has had to live with these rumors. He's a tough guy, and he probably can take it. But what about his wife, Judge Katie Curran O'Malley? I've met her only a couple of times, but from those encounters and from what I've read, I know her to be a sweet, decent lady. The woman has been abused by the behavior of Mr. Ehrlich's aide. And what about the four O'Malley children? They've been abused, too.

Finally, what about Mr. O'Malley's father-in-law, J. Joseph Curran Jr., the attorney general of Maryland? In a career in politics that spans the better part of half a century, Mr. Curran has shown Marylanders what it is to be an honest, hard-working, decent and courageous public servant. He has been abused by the slander campaign of Mr. Ehrlich's aide, Mr. Steffen.

Mr. Steffen has resigned and apologized, and may his shadow never again darken the corridors of power and influence anywhere in America. But Mr. Ehrlich said he owes no apology.

The governor actually has said he did not know about the rumors. Others have expressed disbelief about that, including in this newspaper. Let me add my own disbelief. I think the governor is not telling the truth.

But even if he didn't know, he owes the O'Malleys and the Currans an apology.

Why is that so difficult? Why is it impossible for the man who employed Mr. Steffen, who brought him into state government, to apologize on behalf of his office, the people of the state of Maryland, and his administration, for the callous behavior of Mr. Steffen?

Is Mr. Ehrlich afraid it will produce a sound bite that will haunt him in his campaign for re-election next year, when his opponent likely will be Mr. O'Malley? Or is it that Mr. Ehrlich simply was not brought up properly?

For at least eight years, young Bob Ehrlich was a student at the Gilman School in Baltimore and at Princeton University. Young men at Gilman are taught how to behave in public. If they learn nothing else at that school, they learn good manners. It's just plain good manners to apologize to someone who has been hurt if one is remotely responsible for the hurt, which Mr. Ehrlich is, no matter what says he knew about it.

These rumors about Mr. O'Malley were all over the place, and possibly nowhere in the Free State were they more deliciously celebrated than among die-hard Republicans, some of whom are my dear friends. They wanted to know why The Sun had not published the stories swirling around about the mayor.

The newspaper, of course, did everything it possibly could to get at the truth, and what it found was that there was no truth to the stories. So the newspaper did not publish them. If the newspaper had published the stories not knowing if they were true, it would have been embarrassed, to say the least.

And it would have had to apologize, because that's the very least one does when someone's been incorrectly maligned.

Someone should get that message to Mr. Ehrlich. Maybe some Gilman grad. Some of them are close to the governor, very close indeed.

G. Jefferson Price III is a former editor and foreign correspondent for The Sun. His column appears Tuesdays.

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