You Just Can't Co-Sponsor Everything
(Apologies for slight overlap with previous post.)
Here, courtesy of our new best friends, are some explanations for not supporting the lynching apology from a few of the dead-end Southern senators. Only Lamar Alexander was motivated to come up with a quasi-reasonable explanation; Trent Lott should win some kind of prize for his clumsy attempt to change the subject:
Senator Alexander, in a lengthy speech submitted for the Congressional record, argued the best way for the Senate "to condemn lynching is to get to work" on legislation promoting good schools and better health care for blacks.
But some, like Senators Cochran, Cornyn and Lott, raised pointed questions about the wisdom of official apologies.
Is it necessary, they asked, for politicians to confess to sins they personally did not commit? And when the government begins apologizing, where and when does it stop?
"I don't think I'll get in the business of apologizing for acts that previous Senates took," Senator Cochran said.
His Mississippi colleague, Senator Lott, who lost his post as Senate majority leader several years ago over racially insensitive remarks, said: "Where do we end all of this? Are we going to apologize for not doing the right thing on Social Security?"
The lynching apology was not supposed to be an expression of personal regret by senators as individuals (unless there some real skeletons in their closets) but rather an institutional (and I guess to some extent national) apology to a group that suffered as a result of that institution's actions or inactions. (Cochran's comment at least seems to get that.)
A common reaction by white Americans (and not just conservatives) to official apologies by the U.S. is to cry, "What? How dare you apologize on my behalf? My ancestors didn't own any slaves; they were too busy being chased around by Cossacks" (or the Kaiser's troops, or whomever). What's noteworthy (aside from the usual attempt to claim exculpatory victimhood) is the immediate assumption that the apology is on behalf of white people; that is, the institution (the U.S. government) is immediately conflated with white people in the United States, as if it only represented them. Somehow it's never recognized that institutional apologies are primarily issues between (for example) African Americans and their own government, which failed them badly over many decades.
Anyway, remember that Cochran and Lott's Mississippi retired as undisputed champion of the lynching era, with 581 extrajudicial murders of mostly African Americans to its credit; Georgia, whose senators were late cosponsors of the apology, finished second at 531, just ahead of Texas (493), neither of whose senators felt it necessary to sign on.
John Cornyn, though, did assure the Senate last Monday that "the era of widespread lynching in our nation's history is deplorable," and was quoted by Roll Call (via Capitol Buzz) saying that "there are different ways to acknowledge those times when Americans have failed to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves." Yes, those lynchers sure failed to achieve their goal of not beating, castrating, hanging, and shooting African American men.
An aide to Kay Bailey Hutchison (whose name I have frequently misspelled, though I don't think I'll bother to apologize -- why dwell on the past?) told the Houston Chronicle that the senators didn't cosponsor the resolution because "it was guaranteed to pass," then continued with a non-explanation:
"For her, lynching is something that is very present," [Hutchison aide] Paulitz said. "This is something she knows very personally. But as a member of the Senate leadership, you just can't co-sponsor everything."UPDATE 5:06 pm: Hutchison's personal knowledge of lynching comes, I believe, from having attended James Byrd's funeral, rather than from a more direct experience with vigilante killing.