It's strange that there's a debate over whether our president should apologize for slavery. I thought our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, already did, in his second inaugural address.

Because the apology builds and builds as it goes along, I only mar it by quoting in the middle. But in any case, here's just a part:"It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces but let us judge not that we be not judged. . . . "

(OK, that's not an apology yet.)

" . . . (But), the Almighty has His own Purposes. `Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!' If we shall suppose that American Slavery is one of those offences . . . "

(He is supposing, but wait.)

" . . . which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South, this terrible war, as the woe due those to those by whom the offence came . . . "

(Yes, both North and South deserve to suffer this awful war.)

" . . . shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a Living God always ascribe to Him?"

(No, God wills this.)

"Fondly do we hope - fervently do we pray - that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bondman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk . . . "

(This national debt won't vanish quickly.)

" . . . and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword . . . "

(Saying "sorry" isn't enough, and even money isn't enough.)

" . . . as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said: `the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.' "

What's so strange is not that Lincoln apologized. What's so strange or scary is that such an apology would drop out of our heads. What is the reason, I wonder?

Too Shakespearean? Yes, but we have elites who claim to follow every word of "King Lear" and "Macbeth" and "The Comedy of Errors," but their eyes glaze over when they read Lincoln.

Too biblical? That may be the problem. Any reference to the "Almighty," and people get nervous.

Too violent? Yes, that's what I think. This apology for us is too strong in its emotion. Lincoln rends his garments; he talks of blood, the blood sacrifice. He seems to hint at the sacrifice of his own life a few weeks later.

You'd think the whole drama of apology would be burned in our brains, but it's apparent people have forgotten. All that we remember from the second inaugural is the conclusion, the words, "with malice toward none, with charity for all."

We have forgotten the words that precede this phrase, the terrible words, words about sacrifice. The whole careful edifice of the speech has somehow collapsed over the decades into a single sound bite: All you need is love.

That attitude is what's sweeping the country. It's even swept away that terrifying apology, for that terrifying sin, completely from modern memory.