Any day now, I expect President Clinton will walk up to a podium in the Rose Garden, bite that lower lip of his, clench his jaw and deliver a heartfelt apology to American blacks for the United States’ legacy of slavery.
He’s floated the idea, once or twice, and is no doubt studying the public opinion polls right now to determine the how the speech should be crafted, what color suit he should wear for the occasion and how close Jesse Jackson should be permitted to get to such an event.
But before Clinton panders to his most loyal political constituency with such meaningless symbolism, I would suggest he consider apologizing for some actions for which he actually bears some responsibility. You know, it’s easy to say you’re sorry for things you never did. It’s a lot tougher to apologize for your own errors, malfeasance, crimes and for those of your subordinates.
While Clinton excels at apologizing for the sins of others, he falls short when it comes to acts of contrition for his own transgressions. Consider just one heinous act of his administration for which there has been no accountability — no justice, just cover-ups, double-talk and lies.
When will Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno apologize to the Branch Davidians and the survivors of the holocaust they created in Waco, Texas? Now this would be a truly meaningful apology from those who actually perpetrated the offense — taking the lives of 92 people, including 23 children and one pregnant woman and not even counting four government agents who invaded not a “compound,” as the establishment press was fond of calling it, but a church.
Perhaps the Clinton administration would have slightly more moral leverage in its half-hearted effort to stop religious persecution around the world if it acknowledged this, its own most grievous hate crime against a religious minority group.
No, Mr. Clinton, the Waco victims did not kill themselves, as your subordinates have deceitfully maintained — adding insult to injury. They were deliberately murdered — in cold blood — by your heavily armed troops. A new documentary on the subject, “Waco: The Rules of Engagement,” will shatter any illusions to the contrary.
It offers evidence from infra-red cameras and scientific experts that the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were responsible for the initial attack, the siege and, ultimately, the fire that killed that last 75 Davidians on April 19, 1993.
Waco has been correctly characterized as the worst abuse of power on U.S. soil since the massacre of Indians at Wounded Knee 100 years ago. Yet there have been no apologies, no recompense, not even an acknowledgment of error by this callous administration.
Seeing “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” is believing. One man who screened it in San Francisco observed: “The FBI’s never going to allow this film to go on to general release. There’d be a revolution.” And maybe so. It’s that moving. And that persuasive.
I, for one, will never be able to take seriously any apology Bill Clinton offers if he neglects, first, to own up to his culpability in the Waco debacle.
Please, spare us the phony tears over slavery, Mr. President. That’s one horror for which you weren’t responsible. We hereby absolve you of all guilt over slavery. In fact, no one alive today bears any responsibility for the institution of slavery which was abolished in this country at the end of the Civil War. So, what’s the sense of an apology? If anything, we should be celebrating the national moral awakening that led to the emancipation of the slaves.
Are we still paying some of the costs? Sure. But an apology today would be nothing more than a cynical attempt to score political points and cause even more racial division and tension between Americans.
But, in Waco, the scars are still fresh. The images still vivid. The pain and injustice still excruciating — not just for the Davidians — but for all Americans who have a sense of justice.
Forget slavery, Mr. President. It’s time to wash the blood from your own hands. An admission of guilt and an apology for Waco would be a good start.
So, what do you say, Mr. Clinton? Are you ready to bury your heart at Waco? Or will you remain a slave to your own complicity in what history will be sure to judge as government-sponsored mass murder?