MLK’s response to Kyrsten Fucking Sinema

“Moderate” Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema recently gave her rationale for opposing any change to the crippling filibuster rule, even a carve out for voting rights. She claims that senators need to change their behavior, not make any adjustment to the parliamentary rule, shamelessly abused by filibuster king Mitch McConnell, that allows 35 senators, or even one, to block debate (no debate!) on any bill they, or their big donors, don’t like.

This line about a sorely needed change of heart apparently echoes her predecessor Barry Goldwater, who famously said, in opposing the 1964 Civil Rights Act

“This is fundamentally a matter of the heart. The problems of discrimination can never be cured by laws alone.” Or as he told a crowd later: “You cannot pass a law that will make me like you or you like me. This is something that can happen only in our hearts.” 

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Here is what Martin Luther King, Jr. said to that sensible “laws can’t change hearts” shit:

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also.”

Pretty important, also. The filibuster was used for more than a century to block every attempt to make lynching a federal crime [1]. Lynching, proponents of the status quo argued, was a matter of States’ Rights, something for each local jurisdiction to lawfully decide according to its customs, like common murder, divorce, most other laws. It was left up to a state like Texas (number three in lynchings, US leader in executions since 1976 with 563), or Mississippi (leader in lynchings with 583 documented lynchings), to decide what to do when some goddamn trouble maker/rapist who deserved to die was strung up by righteous patriots as an example to other dangerous raping rabble rousers to keep their damned radical beliefs to themselves. Hell, isn’t lynching one dangerous raping maniac preferable to mass murder of the rapist’s whole raping community?

A federal anti-lynching law may not have changed what was in people’s hearts but it would have allowed a jury that was not composed of local lynching supporters, and lynching tolerant local judges (some of them members of groups like the Ku Klux Klan), to apply a uniform law and decide any case involving the unfortunate death of somebody who, in the considered opinion of the unrepentant murderers, and local authorities, was in desperate need of a hard lesson.

So, yes, Kyrsten, laws cannot change hearts, and you also cannot legislate morality. The best legislators can do is make and enforce laws against things like lynching, defying Congressional subpoenas, lying under oath during a confirmation hearing (whether or not the lies are “material”) and protecting democratic values like universal adult suffrage, non-partisan counting of votes, and so forth.

In the absence of that kind of national consensus about basic right and wrong, good luck changing behavior — especially when behavior to obstruct all debate, including violent behavior, is rewarded by dark money donors and cheering mobs of angry citizens, ready for further orders from their outraged leader.

I’ll continue my presidency in August, assholes

[1]

As Adam Jentleson writes in his invaluable 2020 book, Kill Switch: The Rise of the Modern Senate and the Crippling of Democracy: “The filibuster has mainly served to empower a minority of predominantly white conservatives to override our democratic system when they found themselves outnumbered.” He notes that in the almost nine decades between Reconstruction’s end and 1964, “the only bills that were stopped by filibusters were civil rights bills.” A bipartisan team of opponents, but mainly Southern Democrats, filibustered the 1964 Civil Rights Act for roughly two months before it ultimately passed. (In those days, senators actually had to speak and hold the floor in order to filibuster; now they just have to vote to block debate.)

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