07/17/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pardon Me, Sir, But is My Eye Hurting Your Elbow?

Find my nest of salt/ Everything is my fault/ I'll take all the blame/ I'll proceed from shame...
--Kurt Cobain, "All Apologies."

"My family and I are deeply sorry for everything Vice President Cheney and his family have had to deal with. We hope that he will continue to come to Texas and seek the relaxation that he deserves."
--Harry Whittington, February 17, 2006.

Sorry to say, the world can be divided into two kinds of people--those who apologize, and those who don't. Among the former is David Letterman, a man so sorry he apologized to Sarah Palin twice; and Harry Whittington, above, who made a public mea culpa for placing his face in the path of Dick Cheney's buckshot and thus detracting from his relaxation.

In the meanwhile, for real men, love means never having to say you're sorry. As Donald Rumsfeld once said, "Stuff happens." This is the crowd that delights in referring to other people as apologizers. Confessers. Admitters. Every name in the sorry black book.

Hence Obama's mid-East trip became "an apology tour." WSJ says so. American Spectator says so. Mitt Romney says so.

So pervasive is this meme, so viral, that even the good gray New York Times has gotten into the act. Today David Sanger frontpaged, "[1953] was the same year that the C.I.A. organized a coup that deposed Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and installed the Shah -- a cold war operation for which Mr. Obama just publicly apologized during his speech at Cairo University last month."

I apologize in advance for having to disagree with Mr. Sanger--but Obama didn't apologize for the 1953 coup. Instead, the President simply stated a fact: "In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government."

Now "played a role" is in this context a wild understatement. Still: Obama's not apologizing for it. He's acknowledging it.

The outlines are beginning to form: to speak the truth about the past is an inherently apologetic act. To speak the truth about the past in a speech is to publicly apologize. And the sin of apologizing is not expiated until the apologizer apologizes for the apology.

The whole idea is to make your victim apologize to you--it's the Whittington Syndrome writ large. Case in point: a website devoted to the proposition that Letterman won't really make things right until he apologizes a third time.

Will Obama apologize for publicly apologizing in Cairo? Will the wise Latina Sonia Sotomayor apologize for using the phrase "wise Latina"?

Only apologists never apologize.

(title h/t to the fine 1968 anthology of short screenplays)