Talking Points by Terry M. Neal

Symbolic Lynching Resolution Forced Concrete Political Choice

By Terry M. Neal
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Thursday, June 23, 2005; 8:12 AM

There's not much these days that the two parties in Washington can rally around, as evidenced by the increasingly shrill tone here. You might think that one thing on which everyone in both parties could agree would be a resolution apologizing for the Senate's failure, over many decades, to make it a federal crime for racists to hunt black people like animals and hang them from trees.

When the Senate passed just such a resolution last week, 21 senators had not signed on as co-sponsors. Three of those 21 were Democrats, who added their names the next day. Seven Republicans also signed on after the vote, leaving 11 Senators -- all Republicans -- who have yet to sign on as co-sponsors. Because Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) opted for a voice vote instead of a roll call vote, and the resolution passed with only a few senators actually in the chamber. For supporters of the resolution, led by Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), that elevated the importance of having all 100 members of the Senate sign on as co-sponsors, because it would officially put the support of each member into the record.

Left-leaning columnists, pundits and bloggers have taken the story and run with it. They've all noted that the missing Republican names underscore, at a minimum, the GOP's lack of respect for African Americans.

"Who the hell, in this day and age, is against a resolution condemning LYNCHING!" blogs Rising Hegemon. Meanwhile, AMERICAblog is running its "Latest list of Republican pro-lynching Senators."

This has been a hot topic on black radio and other media outlets around the country as well.

On Thursday, Georgia state Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D), president of the Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials, told me: "It's sad. It's a reminder that we're still in an era when there are some in the body politic who still want to play to the racist elements who still live in our country, particularly the South, the Sons of the Confederacy and that sort of thing. These senators are the new Dixiecrats. Years ago, it used to be the southern Democrats [who were the problem]. But today it's the Republicans. . . . It's a reminder that we still have a long way to go."

Tara Wall, an RNC official responsible for minority outreach, accused Democrats of exploiting a non-issue for political gain.

"What I can say is that absolutely we absolutely don't condone lynching," she said. "We support what's been passed unanimously. Now we need to take the opportunity to move ahead and look forward. We need to focus on the next generation of civil rights by closing the wealth gap, enabling more African Americans to own their own homes, [and have better] health care reform and retirement security."

Fight From the Right

If only left-wingers were up in arms, there would be little issue.

I called a senior Republican official in Washington and was initially given the party line: The bill passed unanimously by voice vote. There was no opposition. Any senator who opposed it could have moved to take it off the unanimous consent calendar.

Then this person called back, insisting on anonymity, to say, "Yes, in reality, this sort of thing does make it difficult for us. There is some frustration, yes."

Whatever reasons some senators had for not signing the resolution, this official asked rhetorically, was it really worth the frustration. It's just a non-controversial resolution, after all.


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