From my History in Politics series:
One of the phenomena in today’s political scene is a shadowy organization that calls itself the “Club For Growth.” It is ultra right wing in its politics and funded by mega wealthy tycoons who prefer to remain anonymous.
Its use of the seductive word “Growth” in its title hides its real agenda. Or rather, what these people mean by Growth is opening the floodgates against restraint to the big business community. No laws against polluting, insider trading, cooking the books in financial ratings, starvation wages for workers, preventing unionization, no responsibility for on the job accidents or deaths due to company negligence and, oh, yes, no allowing taxes on anyone except the poor and the middle class. In the eyes of these Club for Growth royalists, they are the new nobility (mistakenly called “job creators”) and, like the aristocracy of old, should be supported in their posh lifestyles by their inferiors.
Their collaborators in the endeavor I call the Club For No Growth are, of course, the Republican Party Obstructionists in Congress, notably the Republicans in the House of Representatives, who are exercising an ability to gum up the governmental work of doing the people’s business. Any action they can take to slow down the return to prosperity for the vast majority of Americans injured by the Bush Recession they will take, no matter how damaging. Any program that will increase the buying power of the poor and middle class is, as the Germans say, streng verboten, strictly forbidden. They revel in the rise of unemployment figures. See, they say, you have elected and re-elected a President who is not only black but liberal and what a terrible job he is doing. By skewing the flow of taxpayer funds back into the hands of the very rich through manipulation of the tax code – and even trying to block their paying a fraction more – they argue they will be inducing the alleged “job creators” to invest in the U.S. economy. In reality, they use the tax breaks they receive to shift their funds overseas, like Governor Romney did his nest egg in the Cayman Islands. The Club for Growth’s is plainly not for growth of American jobs, but the growth of obscene profits for an ever more privileged few to pocket.
As a result, we see in Washington, D.C. barriers going up every day in Congress, particularly in the House, in order to tamp down the recovery that has been taking place despite all this GOP obstructionism. The latest blow is the “sequestration” that has taken place at their insistence. Its damage to our defense capability is only now beginning to be felt at federal facilities like the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and, as recently revealed by conservative columnist George Will, our world class research on deadly illnesses.
All right, one might ask: have we ever had any similar cases of Congressional sabotage in Washington in the past?
Given the caveat that the founders of our Constitution, which the so-called Tea Party types and others of their ilk profess to revere, set up “checks and balances” to protect against the kind of fanaticism we have now on Capitol Hill that hasn’t been seen since Civil War days, the answer is yes. Or at least I can think of one instance in the 19th century that does no honor to my own political persuasion – the Democratic Party – since the culprits were Democrats.
Post Civil War, the Democratic Party, which had suffered a political disaster because of its position (written into the Constitution) in favor of allowing slavery, slowly began to revive. Former Confederates in the South who had been given “Amnesty” – yes, AMNESTY – for their act of rebellion against the United States of America, recovered their civic rights and converted all States below the Mason-Dixon Line into Democratic strongholds. They promptly passed laws to re-enslave the Negroes (called “Black Laws”) and above all else, measures and terror ism to make sure their colored citizens never voted. Reconstruction helped end some of these violations of the law but when the Feds pulled out their troops in 1876, the same gang went back into power. The Congressmen they elected then set about blocking any kind of effort to relieve the hardships imposed on the black population (including laws against lynching).
In the House of Representatives, a favorite trick of the Democrats was to refuse to answer a roll-call on attendance at the beginning of a session. They would sit in their seats silently and never allow their names to be marked “present.” Consequently, there could be no quorum and no business could be conducted.
That is, until on the morning of January 29, 1890, the Republican Speaker of the House, Thomas Brackett Reed put an end to this worst of their tactics. Reed, a Portland, Maine lawyer, was a giant of a man, more than 300 pounds in girth and more than six feet in length, and was acknowledged to have the sharpest wit of any presiding officer in the House before or since. When the Democrats called for a quorum as they always did, Reed as he always did ordered the Clerk to read the roll call. A number of Republicans low in the alphabet answered “Present.” Then came the first Democrat who per usual remained mum. Reed turned to the Clerk and ordered: “Mark the Gentleman present.”
The Representative in question jumped to his feet and cried: “Mr. Speaker, I protest! Mr. Speaker, I protest!”
Reed looked down at him and sarcastically responded: “Does the Gentleman deny he is in his seat?”
Whereupon, in lieu of a response, the Congressman was marked “Present” and so were all the rest of the Democrats in the Chamber and the Clerk could inform the Speaker that there was indeed a quorum. Consequently, the business of the House could proceed.
The shrieks of “Foul!” from the Democrats fell on deaf ears. Thomas Brackett Reed was forever after reviled as “Czar Reed,” an unspeakable tyrant, but the people’s work was able to continue and the Republic still stood.
No doubt our Republic today will still withstand the assaults by the very party of Republicans that bears the name. The demands for the President to accede to threats of destroying the Federal government altogether unless he cripples it with insupportable cuts will hopefully be overcome and our enemies like Al Quaeda and others who have the same goals will not rejoice. The example of grit and devotion shown by a Republican stalwart of the past should not be ignored by his fellow members of what was once the Grand Old Party.