Wednesday, June 15, 2005

CAPTAIN ED and a bunch of other bloggers on the right are using the Senate apology for not passing anti-lynching legislation as an opportunity to attack the filibuster, and the Democratic Party. Ed quotes this paragraph from Sheryl Gay Stolberg's article in the New York Times:

There have been 4,742 recorded lynchings in American history, Ms. Landrieu said. Historians suspect that many more went undocumented. Although the House passed antilynching legislation three times in the first half of the 20th century, the Senate, controlled by Southern conservatives, repeatedly refused to do so. Senator George Allen of Virginia, chief Republican sponsor of the new resolution, called it "this stain on the history of the United States Senate."

Then Ed writes:

That version conveniently rewrites the history of the Senate and of the efforts to end lynching through federal legislation. That effort had plenty of popular support; in fact, seven presidents demanded action from Congress to put an end to lynching between the 1880s and the start of World War II. Far from being "controlled" by Southern Democrats (not conservatives!), the Senate would easily have passed the legislation on all three occasions had it not been for the filibuster. Southern Senators had to resort to the filibuster not because they controlled the Senate, but because they didn't control the Senate.

Okay, but what about the almost 200 other anti-lynching bills that were introduced in the first half of the 20th century? Why weren't they passed by the Senate?

The reference to the almost 200 other anti-lynching bills is in the Washington Post article about the Senate apology yesterday; the New York Times article mentions only the 3 attempts in which anti-lynching legislation was passed by the House. Is this why Captain Ed chose to link to the Times, and not the Post, article?

And, of course, Ed completely ignores the history of the filibuster, which shows that Republicans have used it against Democratic legislation and judicial appointments at least as many times as Democrats have used it against Republicans.

Back in January, Kevin Drum wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in which he made two salient points: First, Republicans historically have used the filibuster to block judicial appointments far more frequently than Democrats have; and second, Republicans only "discovered" the evils of the filibuster after they had already eliminated all the other Senate rules that protected the minority party's right to oppose judicial nominees they found objectionable.

Conservative bloggers might also give some thought as to why it is that the list of senators who refused to sign the resolution apologizing for not outlawing lynching are, with one exception, all Republicans.

It seems to me that right-wing bloggers are far more interested in using the horrors of lynching to score political points against Democrats than they are in thinking and writing about why it is that Americans cannot even begin to acknowledge shameful chapters in U.S. history until they are long past; and about how that inability to confront injustice as it is happening blinds us to current injustices -- many of which function in similar ways to those seemingly bygone wrongs.

I think liberals are much better at that kind of unflinching analysis of how the past affects the present. Kevin Drum's post today about the Supreme Court ruling overturning the murder convictions of two black men because they were convicted by mostly white juries is the kind of piece that a Captain Ed or a Patterico could have written, too -- if they were actually making connections between overt terror like lynching and the more subtle ways that racism still functions in American life today. Until they do, though, it will be liberals and lefties who write passages like this:

The Senate voted yesterday to apologize for never having passed a federal anti-lynching law. Deborah Crawford, whose great-grandfather was lynched in South Carolina in 1916 after arguing with a white farmer over the price of cottonseed, said she had mixed feelings about the whole thing:

"I feel that there should be something else, something more than an apology, but I don't know what," Crawford said.

By a curious coincidence, though, "something more" happened on the very same day:

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.

....The pair of rulings puts new teeth in earlier decisions that ordered trial judges to watch over the process of selecting a jury. Judges were to make sure that neither prosecutors nor defense lawyers excluded potential jurors because of race.

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 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.

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