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Anyone in Favor of Lynching?

Category: US Politics
Posted: 06/23/05 16:13

by Dave Mindeman

Ok, let's have a show of hands. Who condones lynching? No one? I didn't think so... but it was interesting how the Senate resolution to apologize for Senate inaction against lynching, played out.

Terry Neal wrote some interesting background in the Washington Post. If you look at how it all developed, you realize how far we still have to go with race relations in America. When the resolution came to the floor, Senator Frist decided that a voice vote was in order, since there was no opposition. (There is some confusion about whether a roll call vote was requested or not). Very few Senators were actually on the floor, so it became official quite uneventfully. However, the key sponsors Sen. George Allen (R-Va) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La) wanted to still get every Senator on the record and called for each individual Senator to sign-on as a co-sponsor. Most did so immediately -- a few others signed on the next day.... but 11 Senators (all Republicans) held back.

Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with not signing on as a co-sponsor. That does not indicate a "pro-lynching" bias. It is, however, a very symbolic type of "inaction" that can lead to a broad interpretation of intent.

Mr. Dean was particularly interested in Sen. Thad Cochran's (R-MS) take on the issue. Sen. Cochran is a deep south Senator with a deep south mentality. His answer to reporter inquiries was, that he didn't feel he could apologize "for something I did not do". A Mississippi paper also got Cochran on the record:

"I don't feel that I should apologize for the passage or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate," Cochran told the Clarion Ledger of Jackson, Miss. "But I deplore and regret that lynchings occurred and that those committing them were not punished."

A logical enough response except for the fact that the Clarion Ledger paper also pointed out:

"Cochran had previously co-sponsored measures "apologizing for the U.S. government's mistreatment of American Indians and Japanese Americans" -- neither of which he was directly responsible for."

The other 10 Senators who were conspicuously absent were:

Sen. Lamar Alexander (TN) Sen. Robert Bennett (UT)
Sen. John Cornyn (TX) Sen. Michael Enzi (WY)
Sen. Judd Gregg (NH) Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ)
Sen. Trent Lott (MS) Sen. Richard Shelby (AL)
Sen. John Sununu (NH) Sen. Craig Thomas (WY)

When you look at that list, you can see some of the political posturing involved. Both of the New Hampshire and Wyoming senators are involved -- they have very few minorities in their consituencies and no need to offend potential donors that have less than enthusiastic views on minority legislation. I liked Senator Enzi's explanation though, he said that "in general (he) doesn't co-sponsor bills that don't give specific legislative action or direction to a specific agency". Sure...

Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi senators have little to lose in looking more "deep south". Sen. Lamar Alexander was bit of a surprise here but his excuse was that "he is pushing a different measure condemning lynching, while celebrating the accomplishments of African-Americans". I guess it was too much to ask him to sign on to both measures. Sen. Kyl is not considered much of a friend to the minority community with his immigration stances... and Sen. Bennett is just a conservative nut who's against everything Democrats are for.

Politics is sometimes more about symbolic gestures than about votes. Apologizing for the lynching atrocities done in the the south decades ago isn't a question of being for it or against it. We are really not talking about the past... it is about what the past is doing to hold back progress for the future. The Apology for Lynching resolution spoke volumes on that.
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