Jewish World Review June 17, 2005 / 10 Sivan,
On apologies, Democrats and conscience
"The U.S. Senate last night approved a resolution
apologizing for its failure to enact federal anti-lynching legislation
decades ago, marking the first time the body has apologized for the nation's
treatment of African-Americans."
"There may be no other injustice in American history
for which the Senate so uniquely bears responsibility."
Are Americans going to read about this apology, slap their
foreheads and exclaim "Gee, until now I had no idea America had mistreated
African-Americans"? Besides, does the United States Senate have an immortal
soul? Does it, as a body, have a conscience? Of course not. Only individuals
can be held responsible for their actions. They and only they are guilty or
innocent. The Senate might as well apologize for the Alien and Sedition
Acts, or the Mexican-American War, or the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii
in 1893. Oh, hold on, the Senate did apologize to the native Hawaiians in
1993. Well, in that spirit, I confess that my grandfather once threw my
grandmother's new hat into the ocean. I humbly apologize to her.
The Senate wants you to know how terribly, sincerely sorry they
are even though not a single member of today's Senate was even in office the
last time America saw a lynching. Some were not even born. But that's the
way we prefer our apologies in American politics. We don't apologize for our
own sins. Bill Clinton never apologized for turning the White House into an
auction house, nor for his provocative weakness in the face of bin Laden's
attacks. That wouldn't do. Those were his own sins. Clinton did apologize
for the Tuskegee experiment because he had nothing whatever to do with
it. (He did also apologize for that other business, but that was poll
Eighty of the 100 senators signed on as co-sponsors of this
apology. But Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is unsatisfied. "The Senate has never
issued an official apology for slavery and has never gone on the record
condemning slavery. The U.S. government needs to apologize for the whole
system of slavery. Lynching was just a part of it."
After the bloodiest conflict in American history, a century and
a half of struggle, billions of dollars in government redistribution of
wealth including affirmative action, education, set asides, quotas, job
training programs, urban renewal and outreach efforts; hundreds of plays and
movies; thousands of television programs, millions of newspaper and magazine
articles, operas, novels, music, ballets, Black History Month, and so on,
Mr. Lewis thinks we need an "official" condemnation of slavery? Integrity
leaves off where pointless posturing begins.
But if the Senate is institutionally responsible for blocking
anti-lynching legislation, may the same be said of the Democratic Party,
institutionally? Shouldn't Howard Dean be apologizing for heading what was
once the party of slavery? Things have changed? The pro-slavery, pro-Jim
Crow Democrats are dead and gone; replaced by a new breed that would no more
discriminate than walk on all fours? Um hmm. Why can we not say the same of
the United States Senate?
But here's a thought. In 1975, the U.S. Senate and House of
Representatives comprehensively abandoned our ally, South Vietnam, denying
them even bullets and gasoline. Doomed Vietnamese tried to cling to the
skids of helicopters as Americans evacuated Saigon. Many living members of
Congress participated in that shameful betrayal. An apology on that score
would mean something.
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