- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 24, 2000

Nobles: House Republicans for trying to keep the Clinton administration from stripping military veterans of funds it wants to use in litigation against the tobacco companies.

Under Bill Clinton, taking care of military veterans has not been as important as taking on the tobacco companies. For the majority of House Republicans, that's a travesty. That's why most sought to block the Justice Department from spending money for veterans on tobacco litigation. For that they are this newspaper's nobles of the week.

The Justice Department is pursuing litigation against the industry ostensibly to recover federal medical costs resulting from treating smokers for tobacco-related health problems. Cynics argue the feds are simply interested in getting a share of tobacco revenues. And indeed, when states collected billions of dollars in a previous settlement with the industry, they promptly went on spending sprees with the money.

The Republicans are reluctant to go along with such foolishness and have refused to give the Justice Department the $40 million it wants to pursue the suit. So the administration is scrambling for money; this year it found about $8 million in the budgets of the Departments of Defense, Veteran Affairs, and Health and Human Services, funds that happen to have been collected under the apparently false pretense of treating people like veterans. In a move to block the redirection of such monies, the House first voted 207-197 this week to keep Mr. Clinton from using veterans' medical funds to sue cigarette manufactures.

Unfortunately, under pressure from the administration, the House later reversed itself, even though the overwhelming majority of the GOP continued to resist. Veterans will be the worse for the reversal.

• Knave: Ohio Rep. Tony Hall, for believing in hereditary guilt.

Tony Hall has a lot to learn about apologies. The first rule normally is to seek an apology from the person(s) who committed the wrong. Nonetheless, the Ohio Democrat wants this Congress to apologize for the sins of Americans who lived more than 130 years ago. For this he is a knave.

Mr. Hall has a proposal for this Congress to make an apology for the existence of slavery in American history. To issue this apology, he thinks Congress should create a commission to study the issue and make a recommendation on what the apology could look like. Although Mr. Hall is eager to include many voices in shaping the apology, he has a blueprint of what the outcome might be. Among other things, the apology would include a formal statement acknowledging wrongdoing in allowing slavery in this country, a slave museum and possibly course material on the evils of America's "peculiar institution." It might also include slave reparations, further programs to lift Americans out of poverty and a commission to study the lingering effects of slavery.

Everyone knows slavery is and always has been an evil institution, but Mr. Hall's intentions are misguided for three main reasons. First, it is based on the premise of hereditary guilt Americans today are guilty for the sin of slavery committed before the Civil War ended in 1865. No one alive today either owned slaves or was a slave in America. To make those alive today feel guilty for wrongs they didn't commit is akin to jailing the son of a deceased murderer.

The notion of hereditary guilt highlights the second flaw in Mr. Hall's proposal: the assumption of collective guilt. While slavery was legal in America, Congress passed numerous bills that gave tacit or implicit approval to the institution such as fugitive slave laws, which required the return of runaway slaves. Does that mean that all members of Congress at the time are collectively guilty for supporting slavery? What about the senators and representatives who voted against such bills? What about the Americans who opposed slavery, helped slaves escape or had nothing to do with slavery? Are they guilty with the collective? Are citizens who lived in states like Vermont, which outlawed slavery in its first constitution written in 1777, less guilty than other Americans at the time?

Thirdly, Mr. Hall's notion of guilt knows no bounds. He says the legacy of slavery still lingers in America. So when will the sins of great, great grandfathers be paid off? And when will Americans of all races return to hard work for advancement?

Many believe America already paid a huge price for slavery the Civil War. That war left widespread ruin in the old confederacy, the death and maiming of millions of Americans and the complete overhaul of political power in states that sided with the confederacy. Consider that quite a few blacks, once good enough only for slavery, were elected to Congress from Southern states in the 1880s and 1890s.

This country is not South Africa. A truth commission isn't viable. Mr. Hall should realize by extending guilt he is also extending the negative impact of slavery.

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