That didn’t take long.
News flash: the Democrats will not be wasting any time at their Denver Convention apologizing for slavery — or segregation either. They aren’t even ashamed enough to apologize for giving a double thumbs-up to lynching African-Americans.
Tennessee Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen, the sponsor of the recently passed House Resolution that voiced an apology for slavery and segregation on behalf of the U.S. government, says he will not be pushing for an apology on any of these issues from his fellow Democrats. He labeled the idea a “red herring.”
On a recent appearance on the Comcast Network’s “It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle” (shown on CN8) with, among others, your humble correspondent, Congressman Cohen was going on with great delight about the kumbaya-ness of his recently passed House Resolution. A voice vote. Democrats and Republicans together. Just wonderful, don’t ya know? Until, that is, I pointed out to the considerable television audience that the terrible things cited in his resolution were relentlessly championed for almost two centuries by his own political party. Cohen lists them specifically in his Resolution as follows: “racism, lynchings, disenfranchisement, Black Codes, and racial segregation laws that imposed a rigid system of officially sanctioned racial segregation in virtually all areas of life.”
Well, now. That’s a pretty good list of evil to accuse someone of when asking for an apology. And I had used the word “evil” in my opening remarks with what I assumed was the Congressman’s agreement. So, I did the obvious, wondering aloud whether Cohen had any plans to get a similar apology from his fellow Democrats since it was they who were in fact responsible for the racist history he listed.
With the Congressman in his Memphis district and myself in a Philadelphia studio, the Congressman broke into the discussion the moment we returned from a commercial break to challenge me indignantly. The very idea of asking Democrats to apologize for their support for slavery and segregation and, well, all the rest he had personally cited in his House Resolution, was now a “red herring.” Worse, he said when the point was picked up by another guest, Horace Cooper of the conservative American Civil Rights Union, to demand any sort of apology from the people who did these things was a “rabbit trail.” In other words, a request for Democrats to apologize for their considerably racist history would go nowhere.
Would the Democrats be considering an apology at their Denver Convention, I asked sweetly? I brought up the fact that the Democratic National Committee had eliminated from the “Party History” section of their website 52 years worth of history from 1848 until the beginning of the 20th century. The site, presided over by and prominently featuring DNC Chairman Howard Dean, deliberately skips over no-big deal moments like the Civil War and the Democrats’ opposition to such small things as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution banning slavery. It also skips mention of the opposition by Democrats to the 14th and 15th Amendments overriding the Dred Scott decision to provide both legal and voting rights for black Americans. There is nary a whisper of the fact that Democrats opposed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866 and 1875, legislation that was actually enacted but effectively eviscerated by Democrats until re-enacted in 1964 and 1965 — a hundred years later. I also pointed out to Congressman Cohen that the Democrats had spent 165 years from the party founding in 1800 to about 1965 benefiting politically, socially and financially from support for both slavery and segregation, establishing Jim Crow laws and refusing to support anti-lynching legislation. Wasn’t all of this worthy of a formal apology from the Democrats on the eve of nominating the first African-American in history for the presidency?
Congressman Cohen was not a happy camper. As mentioned, at the very beginning of the show he had seemed to agree with me that slavery was “evil” and “a crime against humanity.” But the man who personally wrote an entire House Resolution word for word insisting it was important that: “Whereas the story of the enslavement and de jure segregation of African-Americans and the dehumanizing atrocities committed against them should not be purged from or minimized in the telling of American history” — that man disappeared right on live television. Congressman Cohen was suddenly seized with a need to purge and minimize his own party’s very distinctive, very lengthy, unbelievably violent and deeply disturbing history when it came to the accurate telling of American history.
As to his Resolution’s pledge that, “Whereas an apology for centuries of brutal dehumanization and injustices cannot erase the past, but confession of the wrongs committed can speed racial healing and reconciliation and help Americans confront the ghosts of their past,” Congressman Cohen was suddenly in no mood whatsoever for any kind of on-the record confession leading to racial healing in the Democratic platform, much less an apology from his party of racial culprits. Stung by the realization his resolution was backfiring on his own party, on live TV no less, out came the spluttering talk of a “red herring” and a “rabbit trail.” He also responded by heatedly (if wrongly) asserting that Alabama Governor George Wallace, a Democrat, was a Republican.
Cohen’s on-air refusal to insist on a formal apology from the Denver Democrats (or any other Democrats anywhere) is, this week of Barack Obama’s nomination, not simply one more TV soundbite. It goes straight to the heart of the way Democrats — or as I call them “the Party of Race” — will be dealing with the race issue this fall — and beyond.
Once again, let me recommend my former Reagan colleague Bruce Bartlett’s outstanding chronology of the Democrats’ historical behavior on racial issues, Wrong On Race: The Democratic Party’s Buried Past. It is a great primer on both the history and psychology behind the Democrats for those who, were they just listening to Congressman Cohen, would think that the history of race in American politics began with the 1960s. Since the Congressman himself appears to think this, I personally recommend Mr. Bartlett’s book to him.
HERE’S WHY COHEN’S refusal to have the Democrats formally apologize for their unbelievably vivid history of racial hatred is important. It simply is not possible to spend almost 200 years playing the worst kind of race-baiting politics — enthusiastically issuing official party pronouncements supporting slavery, making segregation the norm in everyday American life and benefiting, as mentioned, politically, socially and financially from the fact — and not adapt the politics of race as a permanent feature of the party’s political psychology.
Playing the race card, as we say these days, is at the very core of the modern Democrats and the way they address any number of issues. They do it all day, every day — playing off blacks against whites, whites against blacks, blacks against Asians, Latinos against whites and blacks and on and on in every conceivable combination. Here are but a few examples from just this year of how the Party of Race employs its inheritance of racial politics:
* January 26 — Former President Bill Clinton, campaigning in South Carolina for wife Hillary, dismisses an impending Obama win in the South Carolina Democratic primary by playing the race card and implying that Obama is nothing more than a black candidate with no mainstream support. The Clinton quote: “Jesse Jackson won South Carolina in ‘84 and ‘88…. Jackson ran a good campaign. And Obama ran a good campaign here.”
* March 13 — The remarks of Obama pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, begin to surface. They include (but famously are not limited to) a reference to America as “white America, the U.S. of KKKA,” mocks Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as racial sellouts, calling them “Clarence Colon” and “Con-damn-nesia.”