Great Apologies In History

by James Kirchick | July 10, 2008

Jesse Jackson's apology to Barack Obama for whispering that he wanted to castrate him brings to mind the wonderful speech he delivered at the 1984 Democratic Convention. In January of that year, conversing with a Washington Post reporter, Jackson -- a candidate for the party's presidential nomination -- referred to Jews as "Hymies" and New York City as "Hymietown." This slip has since become a defining moment in his career, and a flashpoint in the fraught history between blacks and Jews in America. Yet largely forgotten in the whole mess was the speech Jackson delivered several months later at the party convention in San Francisco. In my mind, it ranks as one of the finest American political orations of the past 25 years, not just for its humility, but its lyricism. Here's a snippet:

If, in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste, or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived someone's fears, that was not my truest self. If there were occasions when my grape turned into a raisin and my joy bell lost its resonance, please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart. My head -- so limited in its finitude; my heart, which is boundless in its love for the human family. I am not a perfect servant. I am a public servant doing my best against the odds. As I develop and serve, be patient: God is not finished with me yet.

There's also, of course, some vintage Jesse Jackson, like "Choose the human race over the nuclear race," and "Bury the weapons and don't burn the people."

You can watch (and read) the speech here.

--James Kirchick

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/great-apologies-history