Mea Culpas

There were two interesting confessions yesterday. The the clip above (about 7:07 in), Jon Stewart admits that he was wrong in criticizing the National Rifle Association for keeping to their plans to have a conference in Denver immediately following the Columbine massacre in 1999.

Additionally, Matt Yglesias wrote an admirable post admitting he was wrong in 2003 when he supported the invasion of Iraq and explaining how his thinking has changed since then.

Yglesias does worry that by admitting error and explaining why he could sound like he’s making excuses: “I’m not a huge fan of this kind of exercise because I think it shades into excuse-making….” While that can be the case, I disagree here (and I bet he’d too, since he wrote the damned thing). We should all be capable of admitting our errors, and it’s definitely educational (isn’t that the point of this whole exercise anyway?) to explain how we arrived at such errors. Excuses are those that have no educational value. Both of these admissions do have them.

Even if it’s the most important reason: “I was young,” isn’t an adequately educational explanation. But Stewart and Yglesias both do a great job of making an admission a teaching moment. And both boost their credibility by doing so. It’s a shame that most politicians and talking heads feel they’re not allowed to confess making bad judgments. President Bush famously almost never admitted mistakes, something that, in the end, didn’t harm him nearly as much as blow-back from the actual mistakes he did make. President Obama has been better, having publicly apologized for the hasty reaction to the Shirley Sherrod debacle. But very few, on the right, the left, the middle or the extreme, have had the audacity to take responsibility. And that’s a damned shame, even if it is politically expedient.


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