Representative Ted Yoho delivers a pathetically poor apology

US Representative Ted Yoho had a heated verbal altercation with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) on the steps of the capital. According The Hill, he referred to her as a “fucking bitch.” Later, he apologized on the House floor. It was one of the worst apologies ever.

AOC had made some controversial statements about why poor people sometime steal, which is is why Yoho apparently called her “disgusting.”

Is this an apology?

Apologies vary. The best concentrate on what the offending person did, who they hurt, and how they will make amends.

Here’s what Yoho said on the House floor with my comments. (Note that this differs from the C-SPAN transcript, which they admit is not completely accurate. I listened to the actual speech and have transcribed it accurately.)

I stand before you this morning to address the strife I injected into the already contentious Congress. I have worked with many members in this chamber over the past four terms, members on both sides of the aisle, and each of you know that I am a man of my word, so let me take a moment to address this body. I rise today to apologize to the abrupt manner of the conversation I had with my colleague from New York. It is true that we disagree on policies and visions for America but that does not mean we should be disrespectful.

That’s is a decent start. But apologizing for his “abrupt manner” is as far as it goes. There is no indication of his awareness of having hurt Rep. Ocasio-Cortez with his words, his attitude, or his lack of remorse. Take a look at what follows and you get a better idea of what’s on his mind:

Having been married for 45 years with two daughters, I’m very cognizant of my language. The offensive name calling, words attributed to me by the press were never spoken to my colleagues, and if they were construed that way, I apologize for apologize for their misunderstanding.

Here is where Yoho goes horribly wrong. First of all, any time a politician brings his wife and daughters into a conversation about how he treats women, my outrage rises. Is the implication that only people with wives or daughters can understand how to respect women? Or is it that the only reason to treat women with respect is that they are wives and daughters? That they need to be protected by men? That’s twisted. Women should be respected because they are people, and like all people they should not be demonized for being a member of a group. “Bitch” is a sexist slur.

Right after that, Yoho says the words attributed to him (presumably “fucking bitch”) were never spoken to his colleagues. But the Hill article says not that he called her those names, but that after he started to walk away, he said them. He doesn’t deny that he said she was a “fucking bitch,” only that he didn’t say it directly to her. That’s weak.

Finally, he doesn’t apologize for what he said and what he did — he apologizes for their misunderstanding. “I’m sorry you feel that way” is not an apology, since it puts the blame on the hurt party.

Summing up: There are some women I care about, so that’s how I know you have to be nice to women. But I didn’t call you a fucking bitch to your face, so I’m sorry you overheard me calling you a fucking bitch and got upset about it.

What comes next is totally self-justifying — it only makes sense when you have the context that this is about poor people’s behavior. Notice that Yoho only indirectly describes this part, which is an attempt to direct attention to others.

As my colleagues know, I’m passionate about those affected by poverty. My wife Caroline and I started out together at the age of 19 with nothing. We did odd jobs. And we were on food stamps. I know the face of poverty, and for a time it was mine. That is why I know people in this country can still, with all its faults, rise up and succeed and not be encouraged to break the law.

We’re off the apology and on to politics now. This is an oblique way of saying that if AOC believes people have a reason to steal, Yoho doesn’t because of his own life story, and that’s why he says what he says. I find it interesting that as opposed to the feint in the direction of the apology at the start of this statement — which Yoho reads rapidly and by rote — for this part he slows down and gets emotional. Remembering being poor is emotional to him. Apologizing for calling another legislator a fucking bitch is just an annoyance to be mumbled through.

I will commit to each of you that I will conduct myself from a place of passion and understanding that policy and political disagreements be vigorously debated with the knowledge that we approach the problems facing our nation with the betterment of the country in mind and the people we serve. I cannot apologize for my passion or for loving my God, my family, and my country.

No one has asked you to apologize for feeling religious or patriotic, Rep. Yoho. They are asking you to apologize for calling a colleague an odious sexist slur. But you’ve made your apology much more about you than about the person you hurt. That is not apology. It’s a justification.

Here is the speech — you can see for yourself the way Yoho mumbles through the first part and then gets choked up talking about his own life and his passion for God and country.

AOC’s response

AOC’s speech in response has been widely covered. Many women found it inspiring. She doesn’t ask for a further apology, since she knows she will not get one. It doesn’t need my analysis, because it’s not an apology, and the message comes through clearly.

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  1. Great analysis. Thanks for pointing out the non-apology, weak arguments, and attempt at diversion.
    “I have a wife and daughter” is equivalent to “I have a friend who is (fill in: African-American or gay), but…”
    The fact that he uses himself as an example of getting out of poverty shows he ignores the impact of systemic racism and the fact that many people can no longer find work that pays a living wage. Patriotism should mean a commitment to making life better for all.

  2. You nailed this non-apology speech. He didn’t take any responsibility, didn’t say how he would avoid this in the future, and certainly put the blame on AOC. The “you misunderstood” approach is classic bullying, gaslighting, whatever you want to call it. And, AOC nailed it by her “passion” and no name calling – just calling it as she saw the interaction. Good article. Thank you.