Special Report

A Lot to Be Sorry About

The sorry lot that apologized for slavery yesterday shouldn't stop there.

By 7.31.08

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On Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives apologized for slavery. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen, a white Democrat from Tennessee who represents a majority-black district and faces a black primary challenger. Or in other words, the U.S. House apologizes for slavery and Jim Crow not as a sincere gesture of the feelings of the American people, but to help a white incumbent beat a black challenger in a Democratic primary in Tennessee. Wonderful.

Then there is the additional irony that the current membership of the U.S. House apologized for an evil for which it was not responsible and that was ended in the century before last. The apology also included Jim Crow laws, so at least on that point some Americans who helped enforce those laws are still alive. (Perhaps some former Jim Crow enforcers are in the House.) But still, the electoral politics behind the bill -- that its primary consequence will be to help a white incumbent defeat a black challenger -- render its content meaningless.

If you're wondering whether the vote really was scheduled to help Cohen, don't. Politico.com wrote this yesterday: "But asked whether there was a link between the vote on the resolution and Cohen's primary, a Democratic leadership aide was unequivocal: 'What do you think? This just didn't happen by accident.'"

And yet as offensive as this is, it raises a good issue. And that is, as long as the House is making apologies, it should offer some for the damaging acts for which it is actually responsible. Such as:

* Bankrupting the country. Couldn't the House give us an apology for creating more entitlement programs than the people can possibly fund, then adding even more on top of those, then promising to add even more if re-elected this fall? The national debt is approaching $10 trillion. And despite the House's paygo rule requiring any new spending to be paid for, the deficit spending continues unabated. Each newborn American baby enters the world a little more than $30,000 in debt thanks to runaway spending. Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are directly responsible for this. But we won't get an apology any time soon because then they'd have to stop spending.

* Refusing to lower oil and gas prices. Congress could lower the price of oil and gas tomorrow by passing legislation opening more of the outer continental shelf to oil and natural gas drilling and allow more nuclear power plants. The commodities markets would respond to the anticipated future supply immediately. Just as the price of oil dropped earlier this month after OPEC announced that the rise in next year's demand would be lower than expected, it would drop again if Congress increased future supply by allowing more drilling and reduced future demand for home heating oil and natural gas by paving the way for more nuclear power plants. Instead, House leadership blames speculators and tries to force oil companies to drill where there is little or no oil.

* Leaving our borders dangerously insecure. If Congress wanted to secure our borders, it could quickly pass legislation fencing and putting under video surveillance every inch of the lines separating the United States from Canada and Mexico, putting Border Patrol agents along the whole thing and inspecting every cargo ship that docks at a U.S. port. But it won't. If it couldn't do that after 9/11, it's not going to do it now. So untold numbers of illegals pass into our country daily, and there's no telling what is smuggled into our ports. We have little control over our own borders, which is a huge national security risk, and they simply don't care. It's not on anyone's agenda.

* Atrocious, indefensible pork-barrel spending. Every year, House members help themselves to our money in the name of helping us all. They spend millions collectively on things like teapot museums supposedly to help the people of their districts and to make sure they get something in return for all the money they send to Washington. But everyone knows it's all about re-election. And yet they get away with it year after year because the folks back home just love getting federal funding for that local youth program or arts collective. The vote-buying is done in broad daylight, even with accompanying press releases. People are struggling to pay their gas and food bills, and yet Congress continues squandering millions on pork.

I could go on, but you get the point. (You can even come up with your own list.) As America's economy reels, Congress ignores urgent matters such as dealing with high energy and food prices and instead passes resolutions apologizing for historical wrongs that ended before the average American (the median age is 36) was born. And as if designed to illustrate the blatant hypocrisy of Congress, that resolution was brought up solely to damage the electoral prospects of one of the people to whom the apology was directed.

Yes, Congress owes apologies, lots of them. But the American people will never get the meaningful ones. Congress isn't done screwing us just yet.

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About the Author

Andrew Cline is editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader. You can follow him on Twitter at @Drewhampshire.