Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Senate apologizes for failing to pass anti-lynching laws

Yesterday the US Senate issued a formal apology for failing to pass anti-lynching laws in the first half of the 20th century. Such a law was supported by seven presidents (according to numerous stories, including this one from the NYTimes) and actually passed the House three times.

I understand the purpose of these types of resolutions. For all that it has absolutely no effect on either the past or the future, it will make some people feel better. It's just a nice gesture that doesn't cost taxpayers anything. On the other hand, it is another case of ritual prostration to atone for sins committed by those long dead, similar to the Wachovia case. At least this time there are still some living survivors of lynch mobs. None of the current members of the Senate bears any responsibility for the failure to pass these laws. While it is certainly important to admit past failures the best way to do this is to correct the mistake, which has certainly been done long since in this case.

The other noteworthy part of this story is the partisan bickering that accompanied it. John Kerry is offended that there weren't 100 co-sponsors of the resolution (there were 80) and that "there's not an up-or-down vote." It passed by unanimous consent, which means that no one objected to it (what 21st century politician would?). Why waste the time taking a vote? So we can make our little political statements, of course. I've also read griping that the resolution wasn't brought to the floor until after Senate working hours. As if it's necessary to spend time "debating" and posturing over an issue that is completely uncontroversial.

I'm often annoyed when I read about the silly, non-binding resolution that both houses of Congress issue from time to time. They commend this, recommend that, condemn a third thing, declare a national day for somethingorother. They are wasting their time and my money on things that are totally useless. But then I realize that issuing non-binding resolutions is often the least-harmful thing that Congress can be doing. When they're occupied with this, they're not raising taxes, increasing regulation or wasting money on pork barrel projects. Which is something to be glad for.

BTW - in any of the statements by Democrats on this issue was there any mention of the mechanism that was often used to stop anti-lynching laws? You know, that hallmark of democracy, which protects the rights of the minority, the filibuster. No? I'm shocked.

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