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June 19, 2005 - "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness."

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Monday, June 13, the Senate voted to issue a formal apology for its repeated failures to pass anti-lynching legislation.

A Senate Apology for History on Lynching
Vote Condemns Past Failure to Act
Avis Thomas-Lester, Washington Post, Tuesday, June 14, 2005; Page A12


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. …


Drawing on the assistance of Assistant Historian of the Senate Betty Koed, Historian of the House of Representatives Robert Remini, Garrison Nelson of the University of Vermont, and Julian Zelizer of Boston University, Daniel Engber here, in the "Explainer" column at SLATE.COM, gives background.

First, the resolution itself can be found here - noting congress ignored hundreds of proposed anti-lynching bills as thousands of African-Americans were killed between 1882 and the 1968. Oops.

Precedents?  Engber notes these:


In 1987, the House passed a resolution to apologize for the internment and relocation of Japanese-Americans (and the relocation of Aleuts) during World War II. The Senate passed an equivalent bill the following year.

In 1992, the Senate voted to apologize for the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii. The House followed suit in 1993, and Congress expressed its official regrets to Native Hawaiians.

The House, though, rejected a 1997 proposal to apologize for slavery, and the Senate failed to pass an anti-lynching apology last year. In 2004, some members of Congress also tried unsuccessfully to pass an official declaration of remorse for the treatment of American Indians. (Both houses are again considering an apology for the treatment of Indians.)


So this sort of thing is recent, and rare.


Engber speculates that "lawmakers might be afraid that an admission of guilt will lead to claims for government reparations, like those offered to the victims of wartime internment.  Bills calling for an investigation of reparations for slavery have been introduced again and again over the last few decades.  A formal apology for a single injustice done to a single group also might invite demands from other groups."

One must be careful.  Engber does note that last Wednesday the Senate passed a bill to recognize the importance of sun safety.  And a few months earlier, senators unanimously agreed to commend the men's gymnastics team from the University of Oklahoma for winning the NCAA championship.

Much safer.

As mentioned previously –

Bush urged: 'Never apologize' to Muslims
Administration officials reportedly inspired by classic John Wayne movie


Some members of the Bush administration have taken a cue from a classic John Wayne Western and are advising their boss to take the film's advice – "Never apologize" – when dealing with Muslims, reports geopolitical analyst Jack Wheeler.

In a column on his intelligence website, To the Point, Wheeler explains Wayne's "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," made in 1948, though lesser known than many of the star's films, includes what's been called one of the top 100 movie quotes of all time.

Wayne's character, Capt. Nathan Brittles, who is facing an Indian attack, advises a junior officer: "Never apologize, son. It's a sign of weakness." …


That – and it can cost big bucks.

And what is the point?  Tuesday morning this was in the local paper our here, the Los Angeles Times - one Deborah Crawford, whose great-grandfather was lynched in South Carolina in 1916 after arguing with a white farmer over the price of cottonseed, saying the whole thing was just odd - "I feel that there should be something else, something more than an apology, but I don't know what."

Oh, no one knows what.

By the way, this was a voice vote – so no one had to go on record. That way you don't lose the votes of the red-meat right.

Over at The Daily Kos you can find a list of the initial twenty who 1) refused to co-sponsor the anti-lynching resolution, and 2) refused a roll-call vote so they'd have to put their name on the resolution.

Lamar Alexander (R-TN)
Robert Bennett (R-UT)
Christopher Bond (R-MO)
Jim Bunning (R-KY)
Conrad Burns (R-MT)
Saxby Chambliss (R-GA)
Thad Cochran (R-MS)
John Cornyn (R-TX)
Michael Crapo (R-ID)
Michael Enzi (R-WY)
Chuck Grassley (R-IA)
Judd Gregg (R-NH)
Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
Trent Lott (R-MS)
Lisa Murkowski (R-AK)
Richard Shelby (R-AL)
John Sununu (R-NH)
Craig Thomas (R-WY)
George Voinovich (R-OH)
Kent Conrad (D-ND) – but later changed his mind and joined as co-sponsor

What was Howard Dean saying about the Republicans being a monolithic party of white Christians?  Everyone, Democrat and Republican alike, was aghast at that remark - except Wesley Clark (See this - "I'm proud of Howard Dean. I'm proud of the Democratic Party.  And we're going to stand together as a party.")

John Aravosis over at AMERICABlog checks what was coming from the offices of those who didn't want to apologize for anything – the usual "my boss was out of town" stuff.  But he points out this


The vote last night was a voice vote. That means all you need is one guy in the Senate chamber to have it pass (as I understand it, there were some 6 Senators or so there last night). That one guy says something about asking unanimous consent that SRes39 (the resolution) be agreed to. The presiding chair says "all those in favor say aye, all those opposed say no, the ayes appear to have it, the ayes do have it." And bam, it's done. All you need is one Senator sitting there saying aye and it's "unanimous."

A "roll call vote" is when they literally go through each Senator's name and he or she has to vote yes or no. They didn't do that last night, on purpose, so there would be no record of the "no" votes.

What we are talking about, and what we are angry about, is NOT who did or didn't vote for the resolution. In principle, NOBODY voted for the resolution and, at the same time, EVERYBODY did because it was passed "unanimously." What we are upset about is that you ALSO can "cosponsor" legislation before and AFTER it is voted on. Cosponsoring legislation is a way of showing your support the legislation, and usually your intention to vote for it. Apparently this resolution had 84 cosponsors, but 16 Senators refused to cosponsor it.

The question is therefore, why did Senator X refuse to cosponsor legislation, in essence, opposing lynching?

But it gets better. A senator can add themself as a cosponsor even AFTER a resolution is passed. That means the 16 hold-outs can STILL now add themselves as cosponsors of the resolution.

So why don't they?


Kent Conrad (D-ND) did.  The others?

Of the nineteen left there are sixteen on the list as of Tuesday night - Orrin Hatch and Trent Lott among them.  By end of the week there were thirteen left.  They know their constituencies.  And they watch those John Wayne movies.

Kevin Drum over at the Washington Monthly points to something else happening Monday – the same day as the apology – "The Supreme Court, overturning the murder convictions of a black man in California and another in Texas by nearly all-white juries, warned judges and prosecutors Monday that they must put an end to racial discrimination in the selection of jurors."  (Full story here.)

So? His comment –


It's about damn time.  There's value in symbolic actions like the Senate apology, but there's a lot more value in recognizing the reality of how racism continues to work today and then doing something about it.  Of course lawyers routinely consider race when they pick juries, and most judges know it when they see it.  Giving them the authority to exercise their best judgment to put a stop to this helps prevent the modern day equivalent of lynching - which, for my money, is the best way there is to apologize for the actions of the past. …


A quibble – is there value in symbolic actions like the Senate apology?  What would it be?

It seems like posturing.  Yes, better to work on the nuts and bolts of jury selection.

Do something now.


Footnote -

La Shawn Barber, who happens to be black, says this:


"In light of the serious problems we face in the world and our own country, I think this apology is one of the dumbest, emptiest, most politically correct pile of rubbish I've heard in a long time.

... I'm sick of politicians wasting time and money pandering to blacks, treating us like empty-headed children, spoon-feeding us putrid pabulum, and prostrating themselves for every perceived slight. Don't apologize to 'Black People.' Apologize to individual blacks who actually care about this mess."


Hey!  There's an idea.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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