Listening to Barbara Jordan #7: “Who then will speak for the common good?”


Barbara Jordan, concerned about the moment, the history, the impact, seriously studied all of the Watergate hearings in review, listened attentively, and indicated to all of us that she viewed this Constitution as a serious document and would not view it and see it be diminished. She took this role seriously, and she was concerned that she speak in measured words and tone, so those who might be looking would still have faith in the Constitution and in this Government.

US Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D) Texas
Tribute to the Late Honorable Barbara Jordan
Congressional Record: January 24, 1996 (House)

Today is the 71st anniversary of the birth of Barbara Jordan, and this is the final post in this series, dedicated, primarily, to Jordan as an inspiration and an agent for change, a voice of moral authority.

When I started putting these posts together, it was because there had recently been a number of voices calling out for change, and that had given me a little bit of hope. Hope that it might not be too late for the country to turn around, to stop the surge, to begin to end the war, and the list goes on and on.

That was a month ago and it’s been a tough month for hope. Molly Ivins left us, Bloggergate raged, the resolution against Bush’s surge was blocked, and just this week, habeas corpus was further ground underfoot when a federal appeals court ruled that Guantanamo Bay detainees cannot use the U.S. court system to challenge their indefinite imprisonment.

As candidates begin to position themselves for the 2008 election, there has been no shortage of rhetoric, but all by people who want to be elected first and foremost.

Barely a year ago, Molly Ivins wrote a column entitled “The Shame of Texas,” contrasting today’s political climate to that of 30 years ago during Watergate, specifically comparing US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ appearance before the judiciary committee on domestic wiretapping to Jordan’s Watergate address. Progress is not the watchword.

Thirty years ago, this state could produce Barbara Jordan — and now we send that pathetic pipsqueak Al Gonzales. Enough to provoke a wailing cry of “O tempera, O mores!” even from the depths of Lubbock.

As a New York Times editorial succinctly put it, Attorney General Gonzales’ Judiciary Committee appearance was a “daylong display of cynical hair-splitting, obfuscation, disinformation and stonewalling.”

How fortunate that Republicans running the committee did not insist the chief law enforcement officer of the United States take an oath before testifying. God forbid that he should actually be held to the truth.

I realize it’s a cliche for those of us who remember the Beach Boys to mourn the days when giants roamed the Earth and all was on a grander and finer scale. But I knew Barbara Jordan, and I know Al Gonzales, and it is damned depressing — he’s too lightweight to even be a mediocrity.

(emphasis mine)

In the same column, Ivins also quoted a review of New York Times reporter James Risen’s book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

Thomas Powers, an authority on American intelligence, reviewed the Risen book for The New York Review of Books and notes: “If the Constitution forbids a president anything, it forbids war on his say-so, and if it insists on anything, it insists that presidents are not above the law. In plain terms, this means that presidents cannot enact laws on their own, or ignore laws that have been enacted by Congress. …

“In public life, as in kindergarten, the all-important word is no. We are living with the consequences of the inability to say no to the president’s war of choice with Iraq, and we shall soon see how Congress and the courts will respond to the latest challenge from the White House — the claim by President Bush that he has the right to ignore FISA’s prohibition of government intrusion on the private communications of Americans without a court order and his repeated statements that he intends to go right on doing it.”

Ivins sadly concluded a year ago, “The time is coming when someone will have to say no.”

A couple of days ago, Joe Conason’s “It Could Happen Here” excerpt in Salon, wherein he mused that the “it” in question “could signify our own more gradual and insidious turn toward authoritarian rule” was met by a chorus of bloggers pointing out that “it” has already happened.

Thirty years ago, Jordan asked, “Who then will speak for the common good?” She couldn’t have foreseen the internet, let alone the blogosphere, but her answer serves as marching orders for the netroots between now and 2008:

“A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good. A government is invigorated when each of us is willing to participate in shaping the future of this nation.”

2 Responses

  1. she was a turly great woman

  2. […] “Who, then, will speak for the common good?” […]

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