In the news this week, moral crusader Governor Spitzer was caught frequenting very expensive call girls. Amidst this, he offered the prototypic modern apology: "I have ... failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself."
This type of apology has both practical & theological implications.
Practically, it's a great way to get out of trouble and still look good. Basically, there's nothing wrong with the person, in fact they should be praised for having such high ideals, they just didn't quite achieve them--like one doesn't quite make a new year's resolution. Think of how useful this is:
When I mess up at home & with the family (a fairly frequent occurrence): "I'm sorry that I did not live up to my standard of being a fabulous, wonderful and all around outstanding husband and father."
When I forget or am late doing delivering on an obligation at work (again not infrequent): "I didn't live up to my own expectations of being one of the premier faculty members on campus--an ideal professor and colleague."
Theologically, it's a way of affirming the individual's moral correctness by casting the action as an almost unexpected deviation from an otherwise morally-outstanding life. Basically it reaffirms the person's belief that they are indeed a fine person. "I was, and am, a good person, but somehow this happened." What a wonderfully modern moral sentiment--self-esteem held on to unto the end.
In contrast, Christianity, as I understand it (and that's a big caveat...) holds that we are already a moral mess, have been, will be, and it's only by grace that we can leave it behind. We're always broken, and any good that we manifest is close to miraculous. Basically, the person is bad, and any moral rightness is a gift.
From this perspective, Spitzer would have been more accurate to say: "I am a lying, cheating, morally-bankrupt person who has abused the privileges of my office and the love of my family. I have consciously broken all that is good in my life. I am a fraud, and I need help."
As Christians, we can't get too caught up on condemning Spitzer or others because the same words apply to us as well. Our response to others immorality is "there but for the grace of God go I."
Our response to our own immorality: "duh."