Column: Remembering a time when the GOP had integrity
Lee A. Daniels | 3/18/2015, 9:17 p.m.
One of the many questions provoked by the “open letter” 47 Republican Senators published last week to try to wreck the multinational effort led by the Obama administration to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons is this:
Do they understand their obligation to the rule of law?
As scholar Daniel W. Drezner of Tufts University and other commentators quickly pointed out in an article in the Washington Post, the administration is the lead negotiator of a coalition involving the four other members of the United Nations Security Council—Britain, China, France, and Russia—as well as Germany. So, Drezner wrote, “If a deal is reached, it’s a deal that has the support of all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.”
That means Congress could not alter any resulting agreement in any way without violating international law by committing “a material breach of U.S. obligations.”
Of course, the real purpose of the letter was to further pander to the deranged anti-Obama passions of the GOP base, and to be the political coming-out of the letter cabal’s ringleader, frosh Senator Tom Cotton, of Arkansas. Indeed, no sooner had it appeared than Cotton supporters let it be known he’s eyeing a run for the Presidency in 2020.
Pardon me, but haven’t we seen this “reality show” in the Senate before—with Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and then Texas’ Ted Cruz in the starring role? What does it say about the GOP that it’s now continually producing these new-kid-on-the-block types for Congress’ once-hallowed upper chamber who ostentatiously smash protocol and tradition in order to alert the far-right of their goal of running for President?
Against that tawdry backdrop, the March 10th memorial service in Washington, D.C. for former U.S. Senator Edward W. Brooke of Massachusetts, who died in January, was like a flash of lightning illuminating a nighttime landscape. Brooke’s two terms in the Senate, from 1967 to 1979 marked a time when it wasn’t rare for Republicans inside and outside of Congress to show that political conservatism and political integrity weren’t mutually exclusive elements and that there was room in the party for centrist-conservatives like Brooke.
Indeed, Brooke’s life and his climb up the political ladder in a state with a miniscule Black population to become the first Black American popularly elected to the U.S. Senate and the first to sit there in nearly a century said something remarkable about him, as well as the state and the nation he represented.
As Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s non-voting delegate to Congress, pointedly noted in her remarks at the Washington National Cathedral, Brooke, a native Washingtonian, grew up in a time when the District—then, as now— did not have the voting rights other American citizens enjoyed. Even if Washington, D.C. had a voting delegate at that time, Black Washingtonians would have been denied their voting rights by the racist code Congress then followed for the jurisdiction.
Brooke’s achievements before and during his Senate career are a testament not only to his value, but also to the immense loss White America imposed on the nation by the regime of official and de facto racism it followed until the 1960s. From the beginning, he made it quite clear he was proud to be a Republican and was not in politics to represent exclusively “Black interests,” but the interests of all the people of his state and the United States. But those beliefs also never prevented him from criticizing his party when he felt it necessary.
For example, in 1964, two years before his Senate victory, Brooke refused to endorse Republican Senator Barry Goldwater’s presidential candidacy (Goldwater had voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964), commenting later, “You can’t say the Negro left the Republican Party; the Negro feels he was evicted from the Republican Party.”
Four decades later, in a 2007 interview for the just-released book, “Memorable Quotations from Edward W. Brooke,” he declared, “Unfortunately the Republican Party has not fared well—it has disintegrated to an extent. Not demised, but certainly has not lived up to its responsibilities to the electorate.”
What would Edward W. Brooke say of the Republican Party now?
Lee A. Daniels is a columnist for the National Newspaper Publishers Association. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com