- The Washington Times - Friday, July 10, 2009

OPINION/ANALYSIS:

What the country needs now is a new bureaucracy to manage the growing appetite for apologies, amends and remedies for various other slights. The apology could be the lasting legacy of Barack Obama.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of oppressed people are no doubt eager to line up for their apology, waiting to be rewarded for slights real and imaginary, ranging from inability to find a parking space to ancient indignities suffered by long-forgotten ancestors. Everybody likes buttered bread, and it’s even better with a little jelly on it.

Some appeals are more legitimate than others. Congress is considering a resolution thanking the slaves, most of them dead and gone beyond the reach of Congress since late in the 19th century, for their work on building the Capitol. There will be a plaque to be put up somewhere. This is only right; every workman, the Bible tells us, is worthy of his hire. But a resolution apologizing for “the peculiar institution” is threatened by the Senate’s insistence that an apology must exclude anything about reparations for descendants of slaves.

Apologies, as every wayward husband knows, are plentiful and cheap (and rarely effective). President Obama’s major accomplishment so far is a speech apologizing to the Islamic world for nobody is quite sure what. Maybe it was for building the Twin Towers so tall that Al Qaeda just couldn’t resist the temptation to take them down. Maybe it was an apology for saving Sunni Muslims in Bosnia, which offended Shi’ites. Or maybe it was for saving the Shi’ites, which irritated Sunnis. Maybe it was just for being an American in the first place; shame is the default position on the leftmost fringe of his party.

A federal Ministry of Apology, Amends and Reparations could send out Certificates of Apology by the millions, trimmed in imitation gold frill, suitable for framing. Reparations, on the other hand, would be difficult to execute. Who would get what? And how much? Would African-Americans with white ancestors, even including slave owners, be entitled to get as much as African-Americans with only slave ancestors? Only a Ministry of Apology, Amends and Reparations could decide what’s fair.

The congressional apology for slavery is in jeopardy not only because the Senate resists the idea of reparations, but because the Congressional Black Caucus smells a rat, or at least a large mouse. The man pushing the slavery apology hardest is Rep. Steve Cohen, who represents a Memphis district that is 98 percent black. He expects a strong black opponent next year and pushing a slavery apology is his best means of survival. He envisions presiding over an apology ceremony at the Capitol, perhaps in the Rotunda (if he can’t stand atop the Dome, waving the resolution). Mr. Cohen once tried to join the Congressional Black Caucus, but was told the caucus was only for black folks. He cites his boyhood admiration for Martin Luther King as further qualification, but even that might not be enough to save his seat. Willie Herenton, the popular black mayor of predominantly black Memphis, has quit to run against him because, His Honor says, taking the Cohen seat “provides the only real opportunity to elect a qualified African-American to the all-white 11-member delegation representing Tennessee.”

There’s a lot of work for a Ministry of Apology, Amends and Reparations. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (no kin to either Stonewall Jackson or Robert E. Lee) wants Congress to memorialize Michael Jackson for his work as a “global humanitarian.” So far this is getting no traction in Congress, in either House or Senate. Neither Nancy Pelosi nor Harry Reid relish a roll-call vote, which certain party-poopers would demand. Michael Jackson hysteria is fading. “Between high stakes fights over climate change and health-care reform,” observes Politico, the Capitol Hill political daily, “Democrats will now have to moonwalk through the minefield of [Mr.] Jackson’s oddball behavior, drug abuse and relationships with young children - all in the perilous geography of race relations in America.”

Mrs. Jackson Lee held aloft a copy of her proposed congressional resolution, also suitable for framing, at the Jackson funeral. Her resolution runs to 1,500 words, citing every contribution the King of Pop made to a charity over the last 25 years of his life. (There’s nothing in it about oddball behavior.) We’ve always reserved national holidays to honor authentic American heroes like Washington, Lincoln and Martin Luther King, but hey! We live in an enlightened oddball culture now. Michael Jackson’s birthday could be celebrated as a day to molest little children.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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