Barbara Jordan video!

Big Virgo thanks to commenter Rich for the link  to the AVoice:  Women of the Congressional Black Caucus site, which has video files of Barbara Jordan’s speech at the 1974  Nixon impeachment hearings and her keynote speech at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Files are in Real Video format.


I see the Barbara Jordan audio posts are getting yet another wave of listeners. Excellent! That’s why I put them back up in the top of the sidebar- just click on the great lady and you’ll get the posts. Or, if you just want the Impeachment material:

“There is no president of the United States that can veto that decision.”

“My faith in the Constitution is whole.”

“We know the nature of Impeachment. We’ve been talking about it a while now.”

“Indignation so great as to overgrow party interests.”

And finally:

The rest of the hearing remarks are all here. It’s a longer clip than the others but honestly, there is not a good place to cut it.

This is Barbara Jordan on the killing floor.

This was a woman who understands history, who illustrates time and again that we are, with every action, with every syllable, cutting the past away from the present.

She never mentions Nixon by name. There is the Constitution. There is the office of the Presidency. But Richard Nixon the president has already ceased to exist. By the time she finishes speaking, he is history.

“A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.”

It’s gratifying that those posts get steady hits, with intermittent waves of high numbers of page loads. People don’t just want that voice, they want that clarity of leadership, they want a Congress with some guts.

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.”

Listening to Barbara Jordan #6: “A President is impeachable if he attempts to subvert the Constitution.”

The rest of the hearing remarks are all here. It’s a longer clip than the others but honestly, there is not a good place to cut it.

This is Barbara Jordan on the killing floor.

This was a woman who understands history, who illustrates time and again that we are, with every action, with every syllable, cutting the past away from the present.

She never mentions Nixon by name. There is the Constitution. There is the office of the Presidency. But Richard Nixon the president has already ceased to exist. By the time she finishes speaking, he is history.

jordan mosaic

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Listening to Barbara Jordan #5: “Indignation so great as to overgrow party interest”


from Say it Plain:

It was a speech she did not initially want to make. In her autobiography, Jordan said she thought the committee should stick to fact-finding instead of speechmaking. “The reaction from the other committee members was: ‘You must be out of your head.’ It seemed they all wanted that fifteen minutes on television,” Jordan wrote.


In methodical and determined tones, she unfolded the constitutional standards that President Nixon had appeared to have violated. Two days later, on July 27, 1974, Jordan voted to impeach the president (Nixon would resign before the Senate commenced a trial). Telegrams and letters poured into Jordan’s office in the days following her speech. A man put up billboards all over Houston thanking Jordan for explaining the Constitution.

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Listening to Barbara Jordan #4: “We know the nature of impeachment. We’ve been talking about it a while now.”


The remaining posts in this series will focus on the Watergate hearings. From the transcript of KUT’s Remembering Barbara Jordan:

After six years at the height of Texas politics, Barbara Jordan arrived in Washington. It was her first term as a U.S. Congress woman, and she was once again compiling a list of firsts.

JACQUI GALES WEBB (CONTINUED) But her tenure in Washington would be marked by what was a defining moment in the country’s history. Within what seemed like moments of her arrival, she was drawn into the national crisis known as Watergate. Wayne Bell begins this next chapter, with Barbara Jordan’s own recollections.

BARBARA JORDAN I went to Congress in January of, of 1973. Now, there were rumblings about impeaching the president, but no serious rumblings. I had always had the highest regard and respect possible for the presidency. And I could not imagine that I would be engaged in a process which would, could lead to the end of the presidency.

WAYNE BELL That’s Barbara Jordan from an interview she recorded with Washington’s WETA in 1984. The rumbling she’s referring to was of course the Watergate scandal, which landed in her lap because she was a member of the House Judiciary Committee. That committee, 21 Democrats and 17 Republicans, was the nation’s point team in determining whether or not to impeach the president. Barbara Jordan, a freshman, brand-new to Washington, would end up playing a crucial role.

MALE THREE Good evening from the U.S. Capital in Washington, where today the House Of Representatives began its formal inquiry into the impeachment of President Nixon.

JOHN DOAR My name is John Doar. I was special counsel for the House Judiciary Committee. In some indication that President Nixon believes that, that that committee can never work, said it would disintegrate into partisan wrangling. And he was counting on that, I believe. And it didn’t come out that way.

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Listening to Barbara Jordan #3: “My faith in the Constitution is whole.”

The first of these two clips, from the beginning of her opening remarks at the Watergate Impeachment hearings, is undoubtedly Jordan’s best-known moment, for good reason. What makes this address so masterful is that Jordan set aside politics to get down to the business of government, to remind people that we all had a very serious job to do, a responsibility to history and to the Constitution. She never even mentioned Nixon by name.


After Jordan’s death, PBS’s NewsHour did an interview with Molly Ivins and Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Recalling the impeachment hearings, Norton said:

At the other end, though, of her gifts was this ability to weave the idealistic into the criticism that was inherent in both Watergate hearings that gave America their first sense that this is a woman who should lead us–I mean, here was a woman sitting there who could have gone at Nixon in a crassly political way and if she’d done it, he wouldn’t have been left standing, and, and, in fact, what she did was to take the low point of the Watergate hearings and raise our spirits by saying, after all, there is something bigger than what Richard Nixon has done; there is the Constitution. And we can’t let this happen, because you are letting us–you would be messing with the Constitution. And my faith in the Constitution is whole. So it, it was a wonderful blend which, in essence, made hers perhaps the only memorable remarks in the whole Watergate hearings.

The second clip is from the 1976 Democratic National Convention. Both these clips illustrate a device that Jordan often used in her speeches: calling attention to the very place in history that she was now spotlighted in, and contrasting that moment with the past, to illustrate both negative and positive aspects of American history. Ultimately, though, that great change was possible, that American history was made up of such changes, and that we, her witnesses and co-participants in that very historical moment with her, were all actors in history and could, had to even, take the courage to make change, to elect a new president, to impeach one who had grown “tyrannical and swollen with power.”

Anyone who thinks these posts, or any other mention elsewhere of Jordan’s voice, are mere re-treads of the familiar lameness of “he/she is so well-spoken” is not getting it. Jordan’s eloquence, amazing at it was, was simply an instrument for her real gifts: intelligence, power, vision, and a warrior’s confidence.


From a public radio documentary, then-Democratic party chair Robert Strauss remembers the 1976 keynote:

“It was a dog convention. I couldn’t get people quiet in the hall, and I was worried that no one was going listen to her because they didn’t listened to John Glen or anybody else, I might add, including me, the chairman of the convention.

And just before she went up on her platform, I said, now ‘Barbara, I bet all my chips on you.’ And she turned to me and said, ‘Bob, you help me get those bad knees up that stage, and I’ll turn this place around for you.’

And when she got to her first sentence, all of a sudden, the audience got quiet and started listening, and I knew I had a successful convention.”

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Listening to Barbara Jordan #2: “In this kind of environment, it is understandable that change would become the watchword of this time.”

Audio excerpt from the 1992 Democratic National Convention keynote address.

[splashcast BCGA1450AB]

Part 1, from the 1976 convention, is here

Depending on your browser, the audio may loop after it plays through once. You can page through the photos (1/9) with the top right player menu.

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

Then let us speak of “the misconduct of public men”

Firedoglake’s Scarecrow:

The policy is still “We know best; trust us,” “stay the course,” and keep throwing American troops into Iraq’s civil war because we can’t afford to fail. Never admit failure. And keep using the statements of the pathetic Joe Lieberman as proof that they’ve got us into such a catastrophic mess that the predicted outcome of doing anything other than continue to listen to them will be even worse. But of course, except for a question on the Cafferty segment of CNN, the word “impeachment” is hardly spoken.


Opening Statement to the House Judiciary Committee, Proceedings On the Impeachment of Richard Nixon by Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. July 25, 1974