Who Regrets Slavery? Not Steve Scalise

I know that Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) doesn’t have “a racist bone in his body,” but it’s hard to reconcile that with his actions. The third-ranking member of the House Republican leadership didn’t just attend a neo-Nazi conference in 2002, he also led opposition to a 1996 resolution in the state House that expressed mere “regret” for the institution of slavery.

To get some perspective on this, the reason that the resolution was an expression of “regret” rather than a straight-up apology is because David Vitter negotiated watered-down language in exchange for his support.

Another familiar face was in the committee meeting as well: Republican David Vitter. The U.S. senator and 2015 Louisiana gubernatorial candidate was also a state representative serving on the panel.

Vitter echoed Scalise in the meeting, arguing that an apology for slavery implied an “admission of guilt,” according to the minutes. The future U.S. senator said “an expression of regret” was more appropriate.

[Then-state Rep. Yvonne] Dorsey eventually agreed to Vitter’s suggestion, and the resolution was unanimously amended to include the “regret” language.

But this wasn’t enough for Scalise. He made an effort to “defer” the bill in committee [it failed 11-2] and then he vocally yelled ‘no’ as the bill was passed on the House floor in an uncontroversial voice vote.

I know that we’re all supposed to make certain allowances for the way things used to be in the South, and, yes, 1996 was a long time ago. But even by the standards of the mid-1990’s, Steve Scalise was an outlier.

Let’s be clear, too, that this wasn’t an expression of regret for the more recent Jim Crow laws. This was about slavery. And Scalise wasn’t making some pedantic point about how it’s anachronistic to hold our ancestors to the moral standards of the present. He just didn’t think that there was anything to regret.

Dorsey, who now serves in the state Senate and goes by Yvonne Dorsey-Colomb, told The Hill this week that she was hurt when Scalise attacked her resolution in the House and Government Affairs Committee.

“I didn’t like what he said and how he said it. It was callous,” said Dorsey-Colomb, who is the descendant of slaves. “I think he wanted nothing to do with it. It was like, ‘How dare you bring this up and ask us to do this?’”

I remind you that Steve Scalise is the House Majority Whip, a position held in the past by folks like Dick Gephardt, Tom DeLay, Roy Blunt, Kevin McCarthy, and Steny Hoyer. Other relatively recent Republican (minority) whips include Eric Cantor, Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney.

Scalise holds a position that is powerful in its own right, but it’s also a position that tends to lead places.

Yet, we’re told that Scalise isn’t actually a racist. We’re not told that he used to be a racist and then had some kind of epiphany like, say, Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who endorsed Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Basically, we’re just told that Scalise never was a racist despite the obvious fact that he behaved in an obviously racist way over the period of many years while serving in the Louisiana legislature.

As I’ve said before, pretending to be a racist isn’t somehow better than actually being a racist. In some ways, I think it is worse. I don’t like excuses that take the form of “that’s just what I had to do to get elected.”

But that’s the best excuse available to Scalise, and, in that case, he was too convincing as an actor.

If the GOP wants to carry this anvil, they’re welcome to it, but the nation deserves better than this. We have an example to set for the world, right?

This isn’t getting it done.

[Cross-posted at Booman Tribune]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.