“Never apologize, never explain”: The IRS brazens it out
There are plenty of circumstances in which that pithy imperative —variously attributed to Disraeli, Queen VIctoria, and sundry other worthies — wins my admiration. “Never apologize, never explain”: I like the blunt, no-nonsense aroma it exudes, the hinted-at announcement that there will be no wallowing in unproductive self-recriminations or manufactured displays of contrition. There is a reason, I think, that the motto seems traceable to Victorian times: an era when manly forthrightness still had a prominent place in the economy of public life.
But context is everything. It is one thing to say “Never apologize, never explain” as an adjunct or symptom of cultural self-confidence, quite another in an atmosphere of duplicity, evasion, or brazen contempt. IRS Commissioner John Koskinen presented a breathtaking example of the latter when he blithely admitted that the IRS had simply “recycled,” I.e., tossed out, physically destroyed, Lois Lerner’s malfunctioning hard drive that (he claimed) was unrecoverable. “I don’t think an apology is owed,” he told a stunned House Ways and Means Committee.
Of course he doesn’t. Why should the head of an increasingly politicized government agency apology for the mendacity and obstructive behavior of his subordinates? As Barack Obama promised his acolytes on the eve of the 2008 election, he was out to “fundamentally transform the United States of America.” Remember that? One of the things he has managed to transform is the machinery of government. People have always been wary of agencies like the IRS, with their vast, often unappealable powers. But more and more people now fear and loathe them as instruments of political conformity and — it is not too strong a word — tyranny.
David Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, spoke for many when he told the Commissioner, “You can blame it on a technical glitch, but it is not a technical glitch to mislead the American people. You say that you have ‘lost’ the emails, but what you have lost is all credibility.”