Lizzie Warren tried to ask
For time to lecture Senate “hacks,”
But when he saw what she had done,
McConnell said, “Be quiet, hon.”
Apparently, the confirmation hearing for Attorney General-nominee Jefferson Beauregard Sessions had nothing to do with Jefferson Beauregard Sessions. To listen to the news media over the past few days, it’s all about how the big, bad boys in D.C. were mean to the poor, little lady senator from Massachusetts. They “shut her down.” They shamed her. They wouldn’t let her read a letter from Coretta Scott King discussing how evil and racist Sessions was and what a menace he would be to our criminal justice system.
Boo hiss, meanies! Another example of sexism! Pull out the pink knitted hats and storm the Bastille, er, Capitol!
And here is where I say, give me a break. I would say give me a bleeping break, but this is a family newspaper. I will concede there are legitimate reasons to oppose any nominee’s confirmation if you think he or she is not qualified either in experience, judgment or character. I have problems with a number of President Trump’s picks, including Tom Price for Health and Human Services, Betsy DeVos for Education and Rick Perry for the Department He Couldn’t Remember.
Clearly, Donald Trump hasn’t made stellar choices across the board.
But Sessions was a great pick, given his resume and his background. Even if he wasn’t, he deserved a fair hearing in the Senate, which he did receive, despite a few temper tantrums on the part of Democrats who still cannot believe they didn’t win the presidential election.
And that, as they say, is that. Only it’s not.
The nomination process stopped being about Jeff Sessions the moment Sen. Elizabeth Warren marched up to the lectern and started reading the letter that was supposed to be a nail in the racist’s coffin.
The letter was three decades old and was written in opposition to Sessions’ nomination to the federal bench under the Reagan administration. That appointment was defeated, and the letter reflected many of the concerns minorities had about the Alabama senator’s record on civil rights. Martin Luther King’s widow noted that he had employed “the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens.”
It’s no secret Sessions had some questionable incidents and affiliations in the early years of his career, but as I wrote in an earlier column, it would be difficult to find a Southerner of the senator’s vintage who didn’t fail the profile in courage test. There is nothing honorable in that, nothing acceptable, but we can’t graft 21st-century sensibilities onto the human product of mid-20th-century America. Jim Crow America. Imperfect then, better now.
Sessions evolved, to the point he received the “Governmental Award of Excellence” from his local chapter of the NAACP in 2009. Interestingly enough, the national organization has issued a statement questioning the veracity of the award, which is both hysterically funny and emblematic of the lengths to which “the resistance” will go to destroy the reputation of people with whom they disagree.
But the award plaque exists, and until and unless they can prove that Session’s mother made it out of papier-mache and gave it to him as a birthday present, it’s safe to say that at least some members of the African-American community don’t agree with Coretta Scott King. There is also a video circulating of her appearing to address Sessions warmly at the inauguration of the Rosa Parks Memorial Museum and Library in 2000, but, contrary to what some have said, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the senator as a civil rights leader. Still, it shows people evolve with time.
So while there is evidence that the new attorney general is a flawed man, it is also true that he is a good one. That should be the end of the story, until he does something that merits criticism.
But “the resistance” couldn’t let go of this perfect moment to shine a light on the evil, retrogressive nature of those Republicans, conservatives, Trumpsters, Non-Hillaryites and men. Mostly men. Older white men. Lots of them.
Warren became a lightning rod for another one of those fabricated revolts, the ones that pour out over social media and take on a life of their own. When it became apparent that the Massachusetts senator was violating a rule of order that prohibited one senator from impugning the motives and conduct of a colleague, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shut her down. He had every right to do so, even if it’s fair to note that the rule was an obscure one, passed 115 years ago. Rule 19 was triggered by a fistfight that occurred on the Senate floor between two older white men. Because no women were in the Senate at the time, it cannot be seen as a way to “shut the little ladies up” because the little ladies weren’t around to speak in the first place.
But somehow, this rule that was passed to keep men from killing each other is now seen as a misogynistic mechanism to silence a valiant woman, straining mightily against the chains hidden under her fashionable blue pantsuit, chains that keep her in second-class status.
Hashtags popped up like #I’mwithher and #shepersisted and #manshejustwontzipit (OK, I made that last one up). Warren again became the darling of the progressive, put-upon women in the country and garnered the support of some of the men who know better than to cross them.
Frankly, I’m really tired of Warren’s narcissistic display. She acts as if every time someone contradicts her or says something that doesn’t jibe with her version of how the world should be, they are attacking her personally because of her gender. It’s pitiful the way she and many of her colleagues use offense and grievance as fuel for the engine of their success.
Telling Elizabeth Warren she violated a Senate rule had nothing to do with Elizabeth Warren. It had to do with the dignity and integrity of the process, and, as a member of the body bound by those rules, she should have graciously accepted them and stepped down. Instead, she allowed this mythology of misogyny to be spread around, picked up by the media and used against Sessions. He was the victim in this scenario, not Lizzie.
You can disagree with Trump’s choice of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions as his attorney general. That is entirely appropriate and understandable if you are a progressive. But let’s stop pretending the Republicans “silenced” Elizabeth Warren.
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Christine Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. Readers may email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.