Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Glossing over what Southern Democrats used the filibuster for, again. Rand Simberg spotted a prime example from ABC News. It started off as:
The filibuster has been used historically by the minority party, which can't win with a vote count. Democrats have opposed the filibuster before — in the 1960s, they accused Republicans of using it to block civil rights legislation.

According to the Senate Historical Office, the record for the longest individual speech is held by the late Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who filibustered for 24 hours and 18 minutes against the Civil Rights Act of 1957.

Someone noticed and it was altered to:
The filibuster has been used historically by the minority party, which can't win with a vote count.
There follows the same paragraph about Thurmond as before. Simberg comments, "Still no mention of Thurmond's political affiliation at the time, but at least they're not explicitly blaming Republicans for blocking the CRA." Several of his commenters observe that the observation about the "minority party" is still wrong in the context of the CRA. Another commenter, Charlie from Colorado, says:
By the way, isn't it interesting that the party affiliation was important in the first version of the story, but went away in the next?

More about Charlie's very perceptive comment later. First some of you may wonder why I have devoted three posts to a misunderstanding about events in a far country that took place coming up to half a century ago, particularly given libertarian opposition to abridgements to freedom of association.

Well, first and foremost, it is because I am a pedant. Of course there are situations when to be first would not be foremost, for instance when passengers are leaving a bus by the rear exit, but on this occasion it is both. By this I mean pendantry as a factor is indeed first and foremost in an imaginary hierarchy of factors in my mind. Not literally, you understand! I do not claim that pedantry has a physical location in the frontal lobes of the brain. I suspect it is a distributed phenomenon. This particular distributed mental phenomenon has the unfortunate effect of making me want to seek out people who mis-state particular historical facts and rip their arms and legs off.

Secondly, getting back to my individually-targeted downer on Senator Robert C. Byrd, it really ought to take most of a lifetime to live down having said this:

"Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds."
After seeing that quote mentioned in the Biased BBC comments I had to check before I believed it. It is fair to cut Byrd some slack for holding racist beliefs at a time and place when such beliefs were common. But that particular quote becomes more, not less, strikingly offensive when placed in historical context. It was written shortly after World War II. The thing that Byrd would rather see his country's flag trampled in the dust than do was serve in the military "with a Negro by my side."

Thirdly, and in this I am seconding Rand Simberg's commenter Charlie, it's funny how it is always this particular little factoid - that Byrd and, at that time, Thurmond were Democrats - that is fudged. One could argue that the whole thing doesn't matter: the uses to which filibusters are put, both the US parties, and the US itself, are all very different now. But if you are going to have a paragraph heading called "Historical Perspective", then have all the historical perspective. If you are going to have all that admiring stuff about Byrd being so learned in the details of Senate procedure, then say how he got that way.

How did the authors of the ABC piece come to make their howler in the first place, despite being confident enough to submit a "primer" on judicial nominees and the filibuster to the public? My guess is that they simply passed on the faults of the source material they used in order to research their article. It is possible to be generally well-informed yet miss the fact that the Civil Rights filibusterers were Democrats because of dozens of separate, uncoordinated decisions by generally left-leaning authors of textbooks, newspaper columns and news websites to slide over the one part of the Civil Rights story they don't like telling.

(I re-wrote and expanded the final paragraph at about 6pm BST.)