If politicians apologise to deflect unfair criticism, they perpetuate a vicious cycle of alarmist stupidity.
In this example, a US sheriff apologised for wearing a KKK fancy dress outfit. He blamed it on youthful stupidity (he was 21 years old, emulating a scene from Blazing Saddles).
The implication is that the Sheriff is guilty of subconscious racism or at least of intolerance toward the feelings of others.
It is such a stupid notion that neither the media nor political opponents chose to articulate the accusation. It was left to the media to ‘accuse’ the Sheriff by asking for an explanation of the photo. The Sheriff naively did the work of the media and opponents by inferring the unspoken criticism and apologising.
His response is very likely to kill the story – mainly because most people know that there’s nothing in it, so won’t pursue it.
The problem with a cowardly apology is that you accept that the claims are legitimate. This encourages more claims in the future – against you or anyone else.
It also implies that you regard interest groups (“squeaky wheels”) as more important than the average voter, and that you don’t credit the public with common sense to judge you fairly.
I think a far better response to this sort of silly accusation is to state the facts and not apologise. You can even go one step further and defend what you did as reasonable, and attack those who deliberately misconstrue ordinary innocent behaviour.
The Sheriff could have said something like:
For a fancy-dress party when I was 21, I dressed up in a KKK outfit – to copy that funny scene in Blazing Saddles. It was a fun bit of silliness, nothing more than that.
If he wanted to take it further he could have said something like:
I am disgusted that my opponents have such disrespect for the voters of [location] that they stoop to deliberate misrepresentation of a fancy dress photo. It’s pathetic.
Not only does this response signal that you won’t take rubbish from opponents, I think it gets positive credits from voters, who like to see politicians bravely and genuinely making a stand against silly game-playing.