Wednesday, March 01, 2017
Looks like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t think his cunning plan to silence Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren all the way through.
In case you missed it, this past Tuesday, Senator Warren was engaging in the debate over the nomination of Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. As part of the debate, she was reading a letter written by the late Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, and a formidable civil rights crusader in her own right. King’s letter was written in opposition to Sessions’ nomination for federal judge. It said, in regards to his tenure as U.S. Attorney for Alabama, that “Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”
All this was just too much for the delicate shell-like ears of Senator McConnell, who invoked a rule of the Senate that forbids any Senator from using “any form of words” to impute “conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator." Apparently, you’re free to oppose a sitting Senator up for a cabinet post, but you can't say anything negative about him while you’re doing it. No mean trick, that. Apparently, the Republican majority in the Senate is still so insecure about their position that they feel as if the only way to win a debate is not to have it.
In any case, McConnell, hereinafter referred to as “Sen. Snowflake,” made a motion to censure Warren which barred her from any further debate on this nomination, which passed along party lines. This was bad enough, but then Snowflake really stepped in it. In defending his use of Senate rules to muzzle a female Senator, he issued a statement: “She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.”
There are some things said by politicians that are just so ham-fisted, so clearly ill-advised, so just plain wrong that they make you go “oh, dude, you are totally going to regret that.” That was one of them. Within hours, “She persisted” became a Twitter hashtag, an Internet meme, and a general rallying cry, which only grew louder when several male members of the Senate (Tom Udall of New Mexico, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, and Bernie Sanders of Vermont) were allowed to read the whole letter.
Sessions was eventually approved, as everyone knew he would be, which made this action by the Senate GOP even more pointless and unnecessary. Had they not chosen to intervene, the letter, read to a mostly empty Senate chamber, would not have attracted much, if any, notice. I suppose Sen. Snowflake felt like he needed to smack down a potential Democratic presidential nominee. But defending the action with the sort of language an abuser would use after blackening his partner’s eye (“Hey, what could I do? I warned her, I explained why she was wrong, but she kept flappin’ her gums”) just served to rally people behind Warren and make her an overnight sensation, the face of the resistance. You want to crush a movement, you don’t hand it a slogan and a flag. These are not very bright people.
Because here’s the thing: an election is not a war. When it’s over, the people you defeated are still around. That’s how it works in America, at least for now. Recently, I read one of those gloating, chest-beating online opinions claiming that the Democratic Party and liberalism are “dead.” Hmmm, I thought. This sounds familiar. And I was right. It’s what the same people were saying the day after George Dubbya Bush was re-elected. Four years later, Barack Obama became the first black president. And then, some were saying that the GOP was dead. But after President Obama’s election, what did the right do? The Tea Party held rallies, turned out for town halls, carried signs--some with truly comical spelling and a few that were outright racist, but they were out there. They persisted. And now the pendulum’s swung the other way. But no pendulum stays swung in one direction for ever.
If you believe in voting rights for all, if you believe in equality before the law for all people, if you believe the environment is worth saving for all of us, and if you believe that access to healthcare should be for everyone, not just those with money—in short, if you believe that “liberty and justice for all” isn’t just an empty slogan, then you might think these are some dark days, what with the vain, greedy, childish wannabe dictator Orange Julius Caesar in the White House and a compliant Congress willing to roll over for him. But that’s when, more than ever, you need to persist.