Thursday, February 09, 2017

Selective Enforcement




Two nights ago, during the debate on the nomination of Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell silenced Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts after she read a statement by the late Edward Kennedy (whose seat she now occupies) and a letter from Coretta Scott King violently criticizing Sessions back in the 1980s, when he was rejected for a judgeship.  When Warren appealed the ruling and called for a vote, the Republican majority affirmed it.   McConnell’s ruling was absurd on its face, and the vote was vindictive.  But what everyone seems to have missed in the controversy is the utter hypocrisy of McConnell—who, less than two years ago, let a far worse iinsult from a fellow Republican go completely unpunished and without any response at all.

Although Senate Rule 19 is very rarely invoked, it exists for good reason.  Its prohibition against Senators impugning one another’s motives was obviously designed to prevent the chamber’s debates from turning into episodes of Jerry Springer.  Violent clashes often threatened on the eve of the Civil War, when southern Senators often exhorted colleagues to shoot northerners who dared to challenge slavery, and I have reported on one that took place in the House of Representatives in 1945 when a Mississippi Congressman said a Michigan colleague was “mixed up with” the Communist Party and the Michigan man called him a liar.  Now we are again engaged in a great political civil war, to paraphrase Lincoln, and such exchanges are to be expected.  Yet the application of the rule in this case was absurd.

Senator Warren did not quote what Kennedy and King said about Sessions to his face during an exchange with him on the floor.  She was not debating Senator Sessions, she was debating with her colleagues on the question of whether Senator Sessions should depart the Senate to become Attorney General.  When the Senate is contemplating a candidate for the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, Senators have a right and a duty to examine his career thoroughly.  That was all that Warren was doing.  After she was silenced, Bernie Sanders and two other Democrats read King’s letter as well, without penalty.  McConnell singled out Warren, in all probability, because she is the sharpest thorn in the Republicans’ side, and perhaps because she is a woman.

What everyone seems to have forgotten, however, is that McConnell conspicuously failed to invoke rule 19 just a year and a half ago, when a more obvious breach of Senate decorum occurred.  The offender, in that case, was Senator Ted Cruz of Texas—then making his name as the most undisciplined member of the Republican majority—and the target was none other than McConnell himself.  Cruz was leading the fight to kill the Import-Export Bank, one of those sinister Washington institutions that strike fear into Tea Partiers’ hearts because it actually makes loans to American corporations to make them more competitive in world markets.  McConnell had refused to allow a Senate vote on Cruz’s measure, and Cruz bluntly called him a liar on the Senate floor.  McConnell made no motion to silence Cruz.  Instead, neither he nor any other Republican Senator said a single word against him.  That reflected the new balance of power within the Republican Party.    “Tea Party groups, the Heritage Foundation’s political arm, and Charles G. and David H. Koch’s Freedom Partners,” the New York Tines reported, “immediately rushed to Mr. Cruz’s defense.”  “Like the battle against Joe McCarthy in its second and decisive phase (1953-4),” I wrote at the time, “the battle against Cruz, Donald Trump and their ilk will take place primarily within the Republican Party.”  It did—and Trump and Cruz’s allies won.  The Republicans have taken note, and even John McCain declined to criticize McConnell’s move against Warren, much less to vote against it.

The ferocity of the Republicans threatens to destroy the political and economic achievements of the last 80 years, but history suggests that it may also destroy them.  Both the French Jacobins in 1793-4 and the Russian revolutionaries after 1917 eventually turned against themselves in a frenzy to enforce ideological purity.  Something similar may happen when the Republicans realize they do not have the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act,  that they cannot possibly justify the enormous expense of a new wall on the Mexican border, and that immigrants, legal and illegal, are too deeply entrenched in the American economy to expel.

Senator Warren, meanwhile, has stepped into the role of another Massachusetts Senator, Charles Sumner, who was beaten nearly to death at his Senate desk in 1856 by a Congressman, Preston Brooks, after violently attacking Brooks’s uncle, another Senator, Andrew Butler.  Sumner recovered from his injuries and lived to see the South defeated in the Civil War and the Reconstruction amendments added to the Constitution.  Warren’s re-election has suddenly become more assured, and she will be emboldened, not intimidated, by what has happened.  It remains, alas, for the Republican Party to recover both their common sense and their honor, and I hope the day will not be too far off when they do.


4 comments:

Bozon said...

Professor
you are a Democratic partisan here, railing against your own system, mainly now when it is controlled by the other party in power, and does what each is supposed to do in similar circumstances, it does your party dirty.

The truth, in my judgment, is that neither party in the two party system we have almost always had, has ever been good for average or lower class Americans.

When the parties were most divided we had the Civil War, an unmitigated disaster for all Americans, many of whom in the North never knew it until the Civil Rights Movement 80 years later.

when the parties were most together, we had the so called vital center, flagrantly giving away, over many decades, all average and lower class Americans' hope for prosperity, to conduct the liberal international economic order globaliaation after WWII.

Either way, either together or apart, our two party system, and the iffy separation of power classless structure it rests on, has betrayed the hopes and dreams of average and lower class Americans, false though those hopes and dreams may well always have been, of fulfillment.

All the best

ed boyle said...

I noticed that you did not include a detailed analysis of Session's voting record and presumed actions when he taks office but focused on the kindergarten politics which dominate Washington, like hollywood gossip columns, focusing on personalities.

Why did Obamacare fail?
Why are US industrial jobs declining?
Why is the USA after 15 years still in Iraq, Afghanistan and getting mired in other wars in Middle East?

Germany, Japan and China have industrial policies to maximize jobs and exports and provide citizens with cheap health care, etc. Without wasting too much on military. America maximizes corporate profit at expense of citizenry by putting bomb builders in charge of warmaking, pharma companies in charge of medicine and manufacturers given carte blanche on where they build what to reimport as US product. Why could this happen? Lobbying, bought congress. This is why a populist got elected, hijacking republican party, against will of bought lawmakers(republicrats all same animals in D.C.). Without excessive corruption, on democratic side, Sanders would have become president, handily trouncing Trump. Until this corrupt two party sytem is destroyed and a renewal initiated America is doomed. After WWII Germany underwent denazification. USA has to do the same. How many banksters have been jailed for the crisis? They are still in charge. CIA has killed millions since WWII. Illegal wars, coups, etc. Get Soros and his ilk out of the govt. Changing business( now with big proests financed all over America). American are destroying each other and the world through polarization. Take away all the money interests controlling, manipulating everything without any sense of common good(sociopathic tendencies) and things could work. America is like any sickly corrupt 3rd world country steering towards oblivion.

We could easily admit that this is utterly naive, as any Brazilian or Nigerian or Indian would. It has come that far. The turning point in the 60s separated left from right fundamentally ideologically. One side's spiritual renaissance led to conservative christian American values with puritan work ethic. The other side got yoga, sexual freedoms, multiculturalism. Both sides became technohedonistic, fat and lazy. So fundamentally we are facing ourselves like in the mid 60s once again. Who am I? What are my goals? Values can't work in a material vacuum. Gays and blacks and liberals need health, peace, roof over their heads just like any midwestern farmer or unemployed factory worker. In a focus on values since 60s the economy has been hjacked by sociopathic tendencies. Everybody is corrupt why not I? Buck stops here. Read Jeremiah. Heart of darkness is in your heart. Don't point fingers. Kindergarten is not just in the congress but the whole society. Jesus in the temple overthrowing the tables of the moneychangers in disgust. At this point in history civil war occurs or revolution. At any rate one side's self rightous tendencies justify extreme behaviour. Lamp post hanging of banksters, expulsion of foreign elements, purges, restrictions on gay rights, abortion rights, affirmative action, union rights seemms likely with current constellation in DC, state houses. Conservative repression fits the cycle just as liberalism fit the 60s 'Springtime' of cycle. Winter is cold and nasty and lasts quite long. Dress warmly and get realistic. Core values like nation, blood ties, old family valuues, hard work, saving not borrowing, self reliance are key. The spirituality of the 60s was expansive, selfish. The spirituality of the winter phase is contractive, inward looking. Both are part of life just as youth and old age.

End of Sunday sermon.

MollyLikesMovies said...

Sir, perhaps you don't quite understand the irony of McConnell's actions, especially in light of how he allowed *male* senators to read from the same letter that Warren tried to read from. Nice deflection, by the way...

David Kaiser said...

To Molly:

Did you read what I wrote?

" McConnell singled out Warren, in all probability, because she is the sharpest thorn in the Republicans’ side, and perhaps because she is a woman."

The piece is about the irony of McConnell's actions.