HANGIN’ LOOSE

You’d think Republicans and Democrats would agree on an issue like lynching. You’d be wrong.

On June 13, the U.S. Senate passed Resolution 39, a formal apology for failing to make lynching a federal crime. Between 1882 and 1968 at least 4,742 people—mostly African-Americans—were lynched in the U.S., and 99 percent of the perpetrators escaped punishment, often with the complicity of state and local officials. A federal law would have allowed the government to intervene but Southern senators filibustered the legislation for decades. Even in today’s divided political climate, you’d think that on an issue like lynching, Democrats and Republicans could muster a rare show of unity. You’d be wrong.

In the run-up to the vote, news stories began appearing that indicated some senators had qualms about the resolution. Then, on June 15, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Senate majority leader Bill Frist had threatened to table the resolution indefinitely, unless the vote was held at night without a roll call.

Bloggers like myself wondered why Frist was so worried about such a seemingly innocuous resolution so, naturally, we posted the story and began naming names. We found the list of senators who had already cosponsored it, and identified those who were missing. After their office phone numbers were posted on the Web, calls started pouring in and several senators immediately jumped on board, even though the resolution had already passed. But after a week 11 Republicans—one-fifth of all GOP senators—still refused to cosponsor the resolution.

The members of the GOP Lynch Mob, as the hold-out senators became known in the blogosphere, have a variety of excuses. Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) told Roll Call that he condemns lynching (phew!) but prefers to look ahead rather than rehash the past. Thad Cochran of Mississippi said, “I don’t feel I should apologize for the passage of or the failure to pass any legislation by the U.S. Senate.” Mike Enzi (WY) wanted kudos for not objecting to the resolution’s passage (a saint, he). Gordon Smith (OR) “strongly supports the resolution” but still wouldn’t cosponsor it. Craig Thomas (WY) didn’t “see the news value” in discussing the issue. And Jon Kyl (AZ) and Trent Lott (MS) simply refused to comment at all.

Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), who added her name to the resolution after being browbeaten by callers for a week, echoed an excuse used by many of the senators: While she abhors lynching, “you don’t have to cosponsor everything that you are in favor of.”

Fair enough. Perhaps Ms. Hutchison and her all-male posse weren’t sucking up to the racist wing of the Republican Party. Maybe they were simply being good small-government conservatives who don’t sign on to every Tom-Dick-and-Harry resolution that crosses their desks. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, Radar thought it might be useful to find out what other important resolutions the Lynch Mob has cosponsored recently.

Senators Hutchison and Cornyn, both of Texas, cosponsored a resolution “commending the Lady Bears of Baylor University for winning the 2005 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Women’s Basketball Championship.” Alexander, Cochran, and Gregg (NH) cosponsored “National Airborne Day.” Thomas and Enzi cosponsored “The National Day of the American Cowboy.” Bennett (UT), Gregg, Lott, Sununu (NH), and Thomas cosponsored a resolution designating March 25, 2005, “Greek Independence Day.” Smith authored a resolution for the “victims of communism.” And just in time for Father’s Day, Alexander, Bennett, Cochran, Cornyn, and Lott took time out to cosponsor a Hallmark-ready resolution “protecting, promoting, and celebrating fatherhood.” Perhaps they would have cosponsored the lynching resolution if the victims had been Greek airborne cowboys or Cuban refugees.

Would things have been different if just one of the 55 Republicans in the Senate or the 231 Republicans in the House of Representatives were, I don’t know, black? Oh, there I go again, channeling Howard Dean. You remember him, don’t you? The Democratic Party chairman who got lynched in the press a few weeks back for saying that the GOP is “pretty much a white Christian party”? As Dr. John Sperling reports in his new book, The Great Divide: Retro vs. Metro America, 99 percent of Republican federal, state, and local legislators are white. In state legislatures alone there are 3,643 Republicans, only 44 of whom (1.2 percent) are minorities.