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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Thursday, May 26, 2005
"President Bush's drive for absolute power has momentarily stalled. In a single coup, he planned to take over all the institutions of government."

Absolute power? Coup? To the barricades, comrades! ¡No pasaran!

On second thoughts, don't worry. It's only Sidney Blumenthal in the Guardian. Talking about filibusters rather than the Last Days of American Democracy, although you wouldn't guess that from lines like "sheer force would prevail". Here he is:

Historically, it [the filibuster] was used by southern senators to block civil rights legislation. In the first two years of the Clinton presidency, the Republicans deployed 48 filibusters, more than in the entire previous history of the Senate, to make the new Democratic chief executive appear feckless. The strategy was instrumental in the Republican capture of the Congress in 1994. By depriving the Democrats of the filibuster, Bush intended to transform the Senate into his rubber stamp.

For many senators the fate of the filibuster was only superficially about an arcane rule change. And shameless hypocrisy was the least of the problem. (Frist, like most Republicans in favour of the nuclear option, had enthusiastically filibustered against Clinton's court nominees, 65 of which were blocked from 1995-2000.)
Shameless hypocrisy, eh? Look again at the first line of the quote above: the filibuster "... was used by southern senators to block civil rights legislation."

Now what party might these "southern senators" have belonged to, Mr Blumenthal? Maybe we could ask some venerable senators:

Over the weekend, two elders, Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, and Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, pored over the federalist papers, written by the constitutional framers, to refresh their thinking about the inviolability of the Senate.
I don't know how much John Warner needs to "refresh his thinking" but Senator Byrd, in particular might be jogged into remembering...

Yeah, yeah. It was a long time ago. If I am to remind everyone that the US Civil Rights Act of 1964 was opposed by Southern Democrats, let it also be said that it was initiated by Northern Democrats (and passed with the help of the Republicans.) Byrd himself is quite reformed now, I hear, and popular with many black voters.

My complaint is this. If you are going to talk about hypocrisy regarding filibusters, don't leave out your own party's hypocrisy. (Mr Blumenthal was once President Clinton's senior adviser.) Yet a lot of people seem to go oddly vague on what party Byrd and his ilk belonged to despite being more than happy to talk about the great days of the Civil Rights era generally.

In fact my complaint is that I could without effort find the material to write a post like this around once a month - and that's just from the British media. I wrote a very similar post for Biased BBC earlier this month. Same basic situation: the BBC's Justin Webb indulged a bunch of folksy filibusterin' reminiscence from Senator Byrd without ever mentioning what Byrd was trying to do by speaking for fourteen hours and thirteen minutes, or what the filibuster is best known for.

Most British people have only heard of the filibuster at all in the context of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964. I've read, as it happens, many UK GCSE textbooks on twentieth century history. One of the popular options for study is the Depression, another is the Civil Rights struggle. Maybe I'll supply quotes in a future post, but let me tell you now one thing they all have in common: no kid leaves the chapter on the Depression without knowing that President Hoover was a BAD president and he was a REPUBLICAN. Yet when it comes to the Civil Rights struggle in the next chapter a certain coyness comes over the same writers. They don't exactly conceal that Robert Byrd or Strom Thurmond were Democrats (no need to tell me that Thurmond changed to Republican later) but a kid needs to be attentive to pick it up. The books prefer to dwell on Byrd and Thurmond's geographical origin. Southern senators.