AUSTIN, Texas -- It's got to stop! This continual flood of apologies plaguing our national political life has become a menace. Two, three times a day, they're out there apologizing for this, that or the other -- showing contrition, flaunting repentance, begging us to please forgive them.

I blame it all on John McCain, who has this disarming habit of admitting it when he's wrong. I didn't know him from a hole in the ground, but he called me a couple of years ago just to say, "You were right, and I was wrong." That was on the 1996 telecom deregulation act, about which I was right and he was wrong. But I'd never had a politician do that before, so it startled me considerably.

This sort of behavior led to McCain's reputation for being "authentic" -- particularly as compared to the gross stonewalling that has afflicted pols from Watergate through Monica. And that in turn led to the dread menace of "authenticity."

"Authenticity" is the chief political buzzword of the year. Who has it (Jesse Ventura) and who doesn't (George W. Bush and Al Gore) is a source of endless debate.

Actually, early on, "traction," which completely superseded "momentum" this year, looked like a comer. Another contender was "wooing the Hispanic vote" -- not "courting" or "seeking," but "wooing." However, both have been edged as the most frequently used cliche of the year by "authenticity."

Not since the time that the entire media corps took to invariably describing Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman as "the blind cleric" have we seen such unanimity. Authenticity has totally eclipsed both "charisma" and "gravitas," two favorites of yesteryear.

Tuesday was a two-apology day, as Bush campaign consultant Ralph Reed apologized for simultaneously being a lobbyist for Microsoft. He said he wouldn't do it any more. And Texas Health Commissioner Reyn Archer apologized for saying that Hispanics are generally in favor of teen pregnancy.

It was a bad week for the Bush camp, apology-wise, as only two days earlier a Bush appointee to the Commission on Law Enforcement Standards had to apologize for having sworn during a deposition that calling black people "porch monkeys" is not a racial slur. However, all this was balanced by Gore's daily apology for the Buddhist temple fund-raising affair.

Other notable apologies of the campaign so far have been:

  • Bush's apology to Cardinal John O'Connor just before the New York primary for having visited Bob Jones University without speaking out against the school's anti-Catholicism and racism.
  • Gore's daily apology for the Buddhist temple deal.
  • Apology by a breast-cancer activist for appearing in an ad smearing McCain as not caring enough about breast cancer.
  • Gore's daily apology for the Buddhist temple matter.
  • McCain's refusal to apologize for having referred to his North Vietnamese captors as "gooks," thus proving his authenticity once more -- they're still gooks to him.
  • Gore's daily apology for the Buddhist temple.
  • North Carolina Sen. Fritz Hollings' apology to McCain for the entire tenor of the primary campaign in that state, saying that "Lee Atwater was alive and well," and, "It wasn't a proud day for our state."
  • Gore's daily apology for the Buddhist temple.

      You might think there was some hope in Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has never admitted he was wrong about anything: possible authenticity there. But no, Giuliani's poll numbers slipped after he once again failed to apologize when the New York City police shot an unarmed citizen, thus demonstrating not authenticity but stupidity.

      Another thing that's got to stop is this endless visiting of the public schools by concerned politicians.

      Every day is full of the public school visits -- not just by Bush and Gore, but down to candidates for Public Weigher of Hides -- endlessly interrupting teachers and kids at school. Disrupting the lesson plan, spoiling the spelling bee, taking up the nap time, elbowing out the math lesson.

      There is a solution. If the media would just stop using those pictures of candidates stooping down to talk to little kids, or picking them up and hugging them, the schools of this nation could finally get back to educating children instead of being constantly used as a background for photo ops.

      Pictures of pols hugging little kids are especially prized if the kid is a minority; I believe you will find by actual count that the politician-visiting-a-school is three times more likely to pick up a minority kid and hug him than an Anglo kid, and I think the White Citizens Council should protest.

      Let me suggest a new way of faking authenticity. When Texas legislators are tripped up in a lie, they traditionally reply, "You caught me speedin'."

      Lyndon B. Johnson, the master Texas pol, was even more blunt. An opponent once rose in the Senate and said to him, "You S.O.B, you promised me you would vote 'No' on that bill, and you just voted 'Yes.'"

      "Well," explained Lyndon, "I lied."

      Enough said.

      Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.