Listening to Barbara Jordan #1: “There is no president of the United States that can veto that decision.”


February 21 is the seventy-first anniversary of Barbara Jordan’s birth and I’ve decided to “count down” to that anniversary with series of posts to celebrate. She was a hero, a Democrat, and a force of nature whose moral authority and eloquent voice inspired so many in this country through some of our darkest days as a nation.

Naturally, since I’m a Democrat, I don’t really have a plan …..

It’s just that during the past week, since the State of the Union address, I started looking for transcripts, audio and video of Jordan for inspiration because of the dark days we find ourselves in right now. Also because during the past few weeks, after a long time in the gloom, we’ve heard some very strong voices urging change, urging individuals to stop and think, ask themselves if they can’t do better, to remember that America is better than this.

Reading, watching and listening to Ivins, Kennedy, Edwards, Hagel, Leahy, and Webb has inspired me and given me hope. It took me back, to when I was a kid, watching the Watergate hearings with my parents, and seeing Barbara Jordan deliver the opening statements. Really seeing her for the first time.

I already knew who she was because she was from Texas, was in the news, but that was the first time I really saw, really listened, and like everyone else who saw and listened that day, just sat there with my mouth open in awe of the woman who would one day speak at my college graduation. Your mind didn’t wander when Barbara Jordan spoke. It couldn’t. You had to listen and you sat up straight and just opened yourself up because you didn’t have any choice.

On that July 25, 1974, Barbara Jordan knew the eyes of history were on her, and on the Congress of which she was a member. “We are trying to be big,” she intoned, “because the task we have before us is a big one.”

She needn’t have worried. Even via the television, she was huge- her clarity and strength commanded that room full of so-called powerful men, and anyone else listening. She was innately majestic and she spoke truth to power.

Bill Moyers said of it, “”Just when we despaired of finding a hero, she showed up, to give the sign of democracy…. This is no small thing. This, my friends, this is grace. And for it we are thankful.”

And that’s the sense I’ve felt stirring these last few weeks, thankful even for the chance that we as a country might be able to turn things around, maybe even to even trust some of the people we’d elected to power to do the right thing and rise to the occasion, to “give the sign of democracy.” We can hope anyway, and this is no small thing…

Moyers (no oratorical slouch himself) would begin his famous eulogy for Jordan with this:

When Max Sherman called me to tell me that Barbara was dying and wanted me to speak at this service, I had been reading a story in that morning’s New York Times about the discovery of forty billion new galaxies deep in the inner sanctum of the universe. Forty billion new galaxies to go with the ten billion we already knew about. As I put the phone down, I thought: it will take an infinite cosmic vista to accommodate a soul this great. The universe has been getting ready for her.

Now, at last, she has an amplifying system equal to that voice. As we gather in her memory, I can imagine the cadences of her eloquence echoing at the speed of light past orbiting planets and pulsars, past black holes and white dwarfs and hundreds of millions of sun-like stars, until the whole cosmic spectrum stretching out to the far fringes of space towards the very origins of time resonates to her presence.

I’m starting off this series with an audio clip, not from the impeachment proceedings, since I just linked to that here, but with an brief excerpt from her first (she gave two) Democratic Convention keynote address, in 1976.

I find it particulary relevant for right now, for us at this moment, 31 years later:

Audio copyright

9 Responses

  1. I covered the Democratic convention in 1976, stringing badly for a Salt Lake City television station. Your mention of Jordan’s speech brings back such great memories.

    I had chances to hear her in more intimate settings later — just a few thousand in a smaller auditorium. She never spoke without weight, though she often spoke with levity.

    How could Texas give us Ann Richards, Molly Ivins, and Barbara Jordan, and then turn around and give us George W. Bush?

  2. I was listening to another recording of a commencement address she gave and it was both weighty and funny. I will probably use part of it for a post.

    as for Texas giving us Bush, I know he rose to power here but I refuse to agree that he’s a Texan, and the fact that he exploits it as an identity is part of the very core of why I despise him so. As far as I’m concerned, everything about him is counterfeit.

    and for the record, Molly was born in California, I believe. But I’m willing to let that slide.

  3. […] “There is no president of the United States that can veto that decision.” […]

  4. I agree that Barbara Jordan’s truth statements regarding the common good are relevant today more than ever. America must wake-up, walk-out, and wing-it…we are equipped!

  5. i think that barbara jordean is a nice lady.

  6. can you send me some info of her childhood.

  7. […] Now, when the nation seriously ponders impeachment of a president, for the third time in just over a generation, Ms. Jordan’s words have more salience, urgency, and wisdom. It’s a good time to revisit Barbara Jordan’s wisdom, in the series of posts at Virgotext. “There is no president of the United States that can veto that decision.” […]

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