The fourth Majority Leader to face the political sword reserved for Senate’s Old Bulls?
Senator George Norris was stunned.
“Why should people be so mad at me?” he wondered in amazement to a reporter for the New York Times.
It was November, 1942. And Senator Norris, one of the most famous and powerful American progressives in the land, one of the Senate’s “Old Bulls” (he was, among other things, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the “father” of the Tennessee Valley Authority ), had just lost his longtime Nebraska Senate seat in a landslide. Said the angry and depressed Senator, tears filling his eyes: “The more I think of it, the more I get bewildered. I can’t understand it. I simply can’t understand it.”
And then it surfaced.
The Old Bull viewed himself as a righteous man. And without a trace of irony, even the smallest sense of recognition that his ego had perhaps gotten a wee bit out of control, he insisted that “in my view, righteousness has been crucified.” Crucified. Just like, well, Christ.
Yes, he acknowledged reluctantly, every Nebraska voter had a right to vote “as he saw fit.” But? “But I think sometimes in a democracy, in the excitement and on the spur of the moment, that it [rewarding the faithful servant like George Norris] is not observed.”
Which is to say, George Norris, then 81 years old, who had begun serving in Congress with his election to the House in 1902, followed by his first election to the Senate in 1913 — making his time in Washington a very ripe 40 years even — just felt those poor Nebraskans weren’t smart enough to appreciate him. Elected first as a Republican, he had become so disenchanted with Republicans and enamored of the Progressive movement he had long since been calling himself an Independent. This was, the Old Bull intimated, his Senate seat. Nebraskans had no idea what fools they were in voting for someone else (Nebraska Republican Congressman Kenneth Wherry). Didn’t they know George Norris was the father of the Tennessee Valley Authority? The man who successfully sponsored a constitutional amendment to, good government style, change the date of presidential inaugurations from March 4 to January 20? That he was the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee? There wasn’t a progressive cause out there with which Norris was not associated. Everybody who was anybody in Washington and the media of the day knew George Norris was as much a part of the town’s landscape as the Washington Monument.
And yet — in one night, George Norris’s political career was over. The Old Bull had been run to political ground, just as the bulls of Pamplona are run into the bullring to be killed at the hands of the matador. Except in this case, the matador was the Nebraska voter.
So. What do we have here? We have Mr. Man of the People spends decades in Washington, morphs into an Old Bull, and is absolutely clueless — stunned, infuriated, bitter — that in fact the voters of his state had just waved the red cape of an election in his face. Charging the red cape as he has for years, to his shock he found himself suddenly staring at a gleaming political espada, a political version of the Spanish killing sword used to end the life of the real bulls after the real running of the bulls. In this case, the Nebraska political sword had cut Old Bull George Norris#039;s political life dead.
Of course it does.
So does the reaction to Norris’s defeat sound familiar. President Roosevelt was so upset he invited Norris to the White House for a private lunch. Progressive champion Vice President Henry Wallace, shocked at his friend’s defeat, was the main speaker at a hastily organized testimonial dinner for Norris, saying of Norris that he was “one of the far-visioned social planners of his time.” Unintentionally revealing of the progressive mindset (not to mention the incumbent mindset), Wallace lauded Norris the Old Bull as one who belonged to “that small group of wise public men who clearly see the future and are willing to do something about it.”
As poll after poll in 2010 signals Big Trouble for today’s Old Bull Senate Democrats, from Harry Reid in Nevada to Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania to Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas to Barbara Boxer in California (to name but a few — and we’ll stick with the Old Bull definition for women senators out of a spirit of equality if not decorum… Old Cows would somehow seem a tad ungentlemanly) nothing is clearer in the wake of the Scott Brown victory than the historical fact that America has been in this political bullring before. Many times.
This particular political bullring proving time after time after time that Washington fills up with all manner of men and women in the United States Senate (and the House and, yes, the White House) who come to view the seat they occupy at the governing table as theirs. Not their state’s or district’s. Not the nation’s. Theirs. Even more telling is the acquiescent view of the mainstream media, agreeing as a routine matter of political fact that such political pillars are somehow immune to defeat because they are, as Wallace said of Norris, part of “that small group of wise public men.” The now immortalized question during the Brown-Coakley Massachusetts Senate debate from Washington insider David Gergen asking Brown whether he was really serious in opposing health care if he sat in “Teddy Kennedy’s seat” captures the Save-the-Old Bulls mind-set precisely.
The hard political and historical fact is that famous and powerful Old Bull United States Senators aplenty have quite frequently found themselves, as did George Norris, shockingly put to the sword in the political bullring. The list includes both Senate Majority Leaders (three of those) and powerful committee chairs (lots of those.) It politically spears Senators formally in line for succession to the presidency along with those mentioned as potential presidential candidates. Their defeats, with the predictability of the sun rising in the East, always sends shockwaves of political panic through an absolutely agog press corps (or “press corpse” as President Obama might say), a press corps that had convinced itself (if not their fellow Americans) that the Old Bull of the moment was invulnerable in the bullring. After all, “everybody in Washington” knew this Old Bull was the indispensable genius, right? “Everybody in Washington” also knew the Old Bull’s home state political base was as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar. Only to find the reality of the political bullring in state X,Y or Z was something different — quite different entirely.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?