In a series of extraordinary speeches, Senator Robert Byrd, a longtime historian of the Senate, has persistently sounded the alarm about imperial executive power. He has unflinchingly exposed the grave danger we face from an Administration that routinely abuses power and tramples democracy without batting an eye.
Yesterday, Byrd delivered another wakeup call. Taking aim at the Republicans’ threat to use the “nuclear option”–a change to the rules of the Senate that would effectively bar Democrats from filibustering judicial nominations–he assailed those who would aim “an arrow straight at the heart of the Senate’s long tradition of unlimited debate.” He didn’t stop there. “Many times in our history,” Byrd said–perhaps speaking to the hypocrites in power who prefer to lecture the world about democracy rather than protect it at home– “we have taken up arms to protect a minority against the tyrannical majority in other lands. We, unlike Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s Italy, have never stopped being a nation of laws, not men.”
Read Byrd’s warning to the republic:
Stopping a Strike at the Heart of the Senate by Senator Robert Byrd, delivered on March 1, 2005
In 1939, one of the most famous American movies of all time, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” hit the box office. Initially received with a combination of lavish praise and angry blasts, the film went on to win numerous awards, and to inspire millions around the globe. The director, the legendary Frank Capra, in his autobiography “Frank Capra: The Name Above the Title,” cites this moving review of the film, appearing in “The Hollywood Reporter,” November 4, 1942:
Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” chosen by French Theaters as the final English language film to be shown before the recent Nazi-ordered countrywide ban on American and British films went into effect, was roundly cheered…
Storms of spontaneous applause broke out at the sequence when, under the Abraham Lincoln monument in the Capital, the word, “Liberty,” appeared on the screen and the Stars and Stripes began fluttering over the head of the great Emancipator in the cause of liberty.
Similarly cheers and acclamation punctuated the famous speech of the young senator on man’s rights and dignity. ‘It was…as though the joys, suffering, love and hatred, the hopes and wishes of an entire people who value freedom above everything, found expression for the last time…
For those who may not have seen it, “Mr. Smith” is the fictional story of one young Senator’s crusade against forces of corruption, and his lengthy filibuster for the values he holds dear.
My, how times have changed. These days Smith would be called “an obstructionist.” Rumor has it that there is a plot afoot in the Senate to curtail the right of extended debate in this hallowed chamber, not in accordance with its rules, mind you, but by fiat from the Chair.