H. Brandt Ayers: No advent for America
Dec 22, 2013 | 3256 views |  0 comments | 32 32 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during his 21-hour oration in Washington earlier this year. Photo: Associated Press
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, during his 21-hour oration in Washington earlier this year. Photo: Associated Press
How does one explain the look on the faces of audiences and the character of their questions on a lecture and book tour this fall from Mobile to Blowing Rock, N.C., and many stops in between?

First, if you’re new to this space, what was the tour all about? It was about a book, a reporter’s memoir of the last 50 years of the South’s history, politics and culture, In Love With Defeat: The Making of a Southern Liberal.

And what was it like for the speaker? Similar to running for president though not quite as strenuous: meeting with local bigwigs, brown-bag lunch with students or luncheon speech, TV interview, evening speech, which is pretty much the same at every stop.

At every university, bookstore, and library lecture series there was the same question asked with an expression of anxious puzzlement: What has gone wrong with our political system, can it be fixed? There was a feeling of people who had waited with expectation for Advent after Advent but the savior who will fix our government has not come, maybe never will come.

Inevitably at each venue someone would look up to the podium with a face that expressed dubious hope and ask the speaker. In essence, do you know how to fix the country’s ideologically frozen state?

My honest answer was and is, I don’t know. But if you’d like to hear my fantasy cure, it goes like this: voters fed up with a minority gumming up Congress would unleash a wave of controlled, enlightened anger that would sweep anyone wearing the insignia “Tea Party” into Boston Harbor.

Eventually, that is bound to happen. Last I heard, the Tea Party approval rating was 11 percent.

While waiting to find out if the sea of discontent will gather itself into a wave to cleanse and restart the process of governance, it might be useful to turn to the experts and scholars for their point of view.

Of particular interest to me was an essay, “Our Broken Constitution,” by Jeffrey Toobin in the Dec. 9 New Yorker. I’ve found Toobin’s books and analyses on CNN to be insightful (and his law professor at Stanford, a formidable woman, told me he was the smartest man in her class).

One of the problems Toobin cites is making an 18th-century document stretch to accommodate a society that has gone from horseback to astronauts.

Recently, Democrats changed Senate rules to allow measures to pass with a simple majority rather than a veto-proof 60 votes of the 100-member chamber. Until the rules change, Toobin had been critical of a Constitution that allowed endless speech to freeze the democratic process.

Republicans were found guilty of the pernicious practice of filibusters. Nearly half of all the filibusters in American history against presidential appointments have been used to stop Obama’s choices.

Who can forget the 21-hour, 19-minute oration of the junior senator from Texas and darling of the Tea Party, Ted Cruz, reciting from the Senate chamber to his children, “I do not like green eggs and ham?”

Cruz ran out of steam short of Strom Thurmond’s 24-hour, 18-minute opposition to President Eisenhower’s mild 1957 civil rights bill. The South Carolina senator’s former chief assistant disclosed how the senator was able to last so long without a bathroom break. He didn’t …

A pouch was strapped to the senator’s leg, which had to be tested before launching into his daylong speech. Practice sessions were in his private bathroom. The aide would turn on the faucet and encourage, “Now, just relax, senator.”

Toobin acknowledges that the clear language of the Constitution can be subverted as it was by an organized and well-funded campaign using TV and every conceivable means of communication by Tea Party allies to change the meaning of the Second Amendment.

In 1939, the Supreme Court emphatically said the amendment concerned only “the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia.” The right-wing blitz worked. The Court found that it protected the right of individuals to own weapons.

Yes, it is true; the Court does read the newspapers. The justices do not leap from headline to headline or from one election to the next, but they are aware of the tides of public opinion.

The public has spoken loudly about its low regard for the Tea Party, and so it is probable that on some miraculous future day a speaker will be asked not why the Constitution is broken but how did our then reformed, congenial and effective government come about.

H. Brandt Ayers is the publisher of The Star and chairman of Consolidated Publishing Co.
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