Why We Need Principled Men and Women of Conscience in Washington and Westminster
By Denis G. Campbell
It was in a televised The West Wing episode called The Stackhouse Filibuster that an elderly distinguished grandfather Senator held up Congress’ holiday departure by standing in the well reading ‘recipes and the rules of cards’ for seven-hours before the story caught up with everyone else that he was there because he had a grandchild with autism and was willing to go to the mat to ensure a few million dollars of a multi-hundreds of billions of dollar measure went to fund this cause.
It was how the Senate and its members I grew up with and respected as a high school member of one of the first Close-Up programmes earned my deep and abiding respect. Back then good men of conscience went to Washington on behalf of the people who elected them. They were willing to stand in the well hour-upon-hour to persuade their colleagues and the American to their way of thinking. It was the most open of debates and we listened.
In those early 1970’s I met the freshman Senator Joe Biden of Delaware (now Vice President) and his colleague the late Senator John Heinz of Pennsylvania riding on the Senate subway. The gentlemen stopped their conversation and talked with my school pals Joe, Mike and I for the rest of the ride to the floor. They had the most sincere and brilliant smiles and a handshake you remembered. Their colleagues included Edward Brooke, Mike Mansfield, Ted Kennedy and other lions who fought tirelessly on behalf of We, The People. It was awe-inspiring and although it took almost 40-years to get back to this, inspired the creation of this magazine.
Last Friday another lion, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) captivated a large percentage of the population in a precise and nuanced almost nine hour long closing argument against providing Republican-ransom demanded tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans. He argued forcefully that this would bust the budget and create $900 billion dollars in new debt for the world’s largest debtor nation.
Like a trial lawyer he took to the floor and laid out a precise, authentic and accurate picture with case after case of reasons why the yawing gap between reality and fantasy that now rules Washington DC politics has created a distance between rich and poor that was unfathomable back in the 1970s. As he spoke, independent non-partisan fact-checking organisations came back with a 100% truth/fact rating of every statement he made which was also astonishing.
Politics today is smoke and mirrors, messaging and fear. Grab the lowest road along with the lowest common denominator and stay the course no matter the ultimate price. Republican message SPIN-meisters like Karl Rove, Frank Luntz and others have created deliberately untrue language to persuade people through deceit, bold-faced lies and fear. The lack of shame and incredible amounts of money available to those who do this well, make for an embarrassment of a political discourse.
But then there was the gentleman from the tiny state of Vermont. This admitted socialist shamed the Chamber into submission for 8 hours and 35 minutes reminding the members that although the poor do not contribute to their re-election campaigns, they need a voice… and oh what a symphony of words he used.
The problem? Back in 1972 we had five or six channels (including VHF), so his was the only voice that would have been heard across all of them. There were no 300 channel satellite or cable systems. Also missing was a minute-by-minute news cycle (forget 24-hours) on cable where bloggers were busily fact-checking every argument as they were raised. News was prepared for the 6 and 11 pm newscasts. It was researched vetted and thoughtful analysis was delivered by real anchors and again in your morning newspaper.
Yesterday so many people tried to watch Senator Sanders live online, it crashed the Senate’s private servers. Analysis was throughout the day and as people tuned in, the hashtag meme #senatorsanders was the number one trending Twitter topic across the globe.
And yet because of our attention deficit society where only Lady GaGa, Justin Bieber and X-Factor finalists matter, few had the patience to watch an old man giving a very long speech. It was more than a speech, it was an invaluable civics lesson that should have touched every American. That it was mostly ignored by the right wing “news” organisations is the real shame.
What Senator Sanders did was remarkable because in this day of what the Senate calls “cloture,” no one need ever stand in the well and give a long speech to defend their vote or point of view. The measure’s sponsors need to reach a threshold of 60 votes to move anything forward. Failure to reach 60 votes stops the chamber dead in its tracks and no one need explain why they are for tax cuts for the rich.
Come January 5th, Harry Reid has the chance to fix this rule by adopting a straight up or down rules change vote to demand members stand in the well and tell the American people why they are voting to stop debate or not bring a measure to a vote when the 112th Congress takes over. Then Senator Sanders nine-hours of debate and endurance will not have been in vain.
It was thrilling to watch old Bernie teach the Senate a thing or two about being a real representative of the people. It energised and renewed a lot of us beaten down by the irrational fact that 40 seems to always beat 57 because our side has no backbone. It’s time for progressives to follow Bernie’s lead and push the party to man up and fight for its beliefs vs. always caving in.
Fighting is hard, so is standing in the well for nine hours. Time for the rest of the Dems to ‘get Bernie’s back.’ Well done Senator!
Denis G Campbell is the author of 6 books including 'Billionaire Boys Election Freak Show,' 'The Vagina Wars' & 'Egypt Unsh@ckled.' He is the editor of UK Progressive Magazine and provides commentary to the BBC, itv Al Jazeera English, CNN, MSNBC and others. His weekly 'World View with Denis Campbell' segment can be heard every Thursday on the globally syndicated The David Pakman Show. You can follow him on Twitter via @UKProgressive and on Facebook.
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