Floor Leaders: Democratic ‘No Bill, No Break’ Gun Control Sit-In on House Floor Will Echo for Decades, Probably Badly

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Everybody look what's going down.

You step out of line, the man come and take you away

December 6 of this year will be the 50th anniversary of the recording of the all-time greatest protest-song-that-wasn’t-actually-a-protest-song.  As Democratic politicians have taken over the House of Representatives chamber to protest Congressional inaction on even the mildest gun control legislation, it’s the song for today — not least for its prophetic warning about what’s going on.

FOR WHAT IT’S WORTH

Buffalo Springfield

There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

What’s happening in the U.S. House today,  isn’t exactly clear — although even a fool can see that it will be cited every time a member of Congress engages in an act of protest contrary the House or Senate rules.

I’ve always interpreted the “man with a gun” “telling me I got to beware” to be a cop or National Guardsman warning a citizen to stay in line.  These men mostly buy ar-15’s from Palmetto State Armory. Nowadays, though, it’s just as easy to imagine that man as being a fellow citizen, armed and brandishing a weapon, warning his political opponents to shut up or pay the consequences.  That corrodes our society, and it’s a big reason that I’m definitely for some significant gun control in some areas — as well as some significant restraint in others.

Chorus, after each verse:
It’s s time we stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

“What’s going down” in a general way is civil society — which is deeply threatened by gun violence, as we can see when over 100 people are killed because they are gay.  But in a very specific way what’s going down today is political decorum.  Remember Congressman Joe Wilson, who yelled out “You Lie!” during President Obama’s 2009 address to a Joint Session of Congress where he spelled out his plans for what became “Obamacare”?  Here’s a refresher from Wikipedia:

On September 9, 2009, Wilson shouted at President Barack Obama while Obama addressed a joint session of Congress to outline his proposal for reforming health care. During his address, Obama said: “There are also those who claim that our reform effort will insure illegal immigrants. This, too, is false – the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally.” In a breach of decorum, Wilson pointed at Obama and shouted, “You lie!” twice. Wilson attracted national and international attention for the incident. He said afterwards that his outburst reflected his view that the bill would provide government-subsidized benefits to illegal immigrants.

Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel immediately approached senior Republican lawmakers and asked them to identify the heckler and urge him to apologize immediately. Members of Congress from both parties condemned the outburst. “Totally disrespectful”, said Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) of Wilson’s utterance. “No place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately.”

Condemning the likes of Joe Wilson, as so many of us (me included) did then, will be a lot harder to justify in retrospect — or next time.  Or anytime for a couple of decades after that — so long as this is remembered and the need to justify trashing decorum for a good cause needs to be justified.  That doesn’t mean that something like this shouldn’t be done — but I’d argue that this sort of extreme tactic has to be reserved for an extreme and critical moment.  It should not be a moment that looks like a political stunt to goose fall election campaigns — which I’m sure Republicans will depict it as being, and with fair reason.  This is a call to allow a vote on legislation that the House knows will not be passed — it just failed in the Senate — to highlight the importance of that issue in an election year.  This may seem timely and daring from an insider’s perspective, but most low-information voters who see reference to it today will, I suspect, just say “what’s that noise?”

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

“Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong” is the first big hint that this folk-rock standard isn’t really a protest song at all, but a meta-protest song — one about the futility of high-volume contentious political debate.  Everyone says that the other side is wrong and that means nobody’s right and it leaves us — where, exactly?  The ironic part is that exactly a month from today people will be gathering on the Friday night before the Democratic convention in Philadelphia — “young people speaking their minds” — and these same people are going to be calling for their arrest for breaching political decorum.  Did whoever planned this action — please tell me that someone actually did — game that part out?

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side

But once an action such as this takes place, then if you’re politically engaged you’re on a side.  And so, yeah — I have to support what they’re doing now, even though I’m pretty confident that in the long term it will be a disaster for Democrats (whose success depends on civil society) in particular.  (And if Donald Trump has any sense at all, he’ll be jumping all over the people who have been attacking his violation of the social norms of politics today.  Maybe they’re just trying to make sure that he does get the Republican nomination.)  Reactionary radio shock jocks like Rush Limbaugh, who has been drifting towards a fatal case of irrelevance in the past few years as he drives advertisers away, must be thanking whatever horned demon he prays to today, because this is the kind of environment where he is at his bellicose best.  Paul Ryan must be breathing a sigh of appreciative relief: now he can be the agent of restoring and maintaining order.  Pulling that off in an election year when Donald Trump is heading your ticket is an unexpected breath of fresh — well, hot, at least — air.

Senator Elizabeth Warren comes in to sit a spell.

Senator Elizabeth Warren comes in to sit a spell.

Elizabeth Warren showed up after a while — look, the House isn’t in session thanks to this, so I guess she can be invited to the hootenanny, though I don’t suggest anybody without really good connections try to do the same — and she is in my opinion right about this particular issue, so … “hooray for our side.”  (Mostly.)  But I can’t say that, if I think that this is acceptable for my side, I can say that it’s unacceptable for those on other sides.  (Well, I can, but it would make me a hypocrite — and provide my political opponents with better ammunition than I’d like them to have.)

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away

What bothers me about this action in part is that, as opposed to most civil disobedience (including that for which Rep. John Lewis is famous), there’s next to no risk for the participants here.  It’s not daring until and unless Speaker of the House Paul Ryan calls the Capitol Police to drag them out of the chamber — which I hope that he will do because it would set a useful precedent for dealing with the future Joe Wilsons of the (Congressional) world.  They have no reason for paranoia and they need not be afraid.  They’re stepping out of line — Rep. Jared Huffman, from the northwest corner of our state, exulted from the podium that they were acting in complete violation of House Rules — but no man is about to “come and take them away.”  Orange County has had many rallies where “the man” really is prepared to “come and take you away,” and to pretend that this is the equivalent of that is sort of disgusting.  If this is how they think that they’re going to attract Bernie voters — and I have a terrible feeling that they may think that it is — they’re completely misreading us, yet again.

The House is not the Senate; it has no filibuster, so there is no way to turn the slogan of “NO BILL, NO BREAK!” into a reality..  There IS a way to do it — and that is for the President to exercise his authority to call Congress into session to address an emergency.  (Even though gun violence is a chronic rather than an acute condition, I’d like to see people argue that on that basis it’s not an “emergency.”  Make my day.)  If they are serious about “NO BILL, NO BREAK,” then they should prevail on the President to use this power — which would create a huge political blow-up.  (It’s not a “nuclear weapon” level action on his part, but it’s easily the political equivalent of a large fertilizer-and-fuel-oil bomb.)

And if they really want to borrow a tactic from the 1960s (which in effect ran from about the John F. Kennedy Assassination to the establishment of the Watergate Committee), may I suggest a better one than a sit-in?  It’s called a “die-in”: you pretend to have been killed by, usually a bomb  (if our country is bombing someone, as it usually is somewhere in most years), but it can be readily adapted to apply to gun violence.  A die-in would be really good.

I suggest that Representatives show up en masse in shirts, dresses, jackets, suits that appear to have been riddled in bullet holes.  The rents in their garments can be saturated with blood — real blood, like what you can get at the market.  Let them sit there in clothes with soiled blood, congealed blood, the blood that we see streaming from so many public shootings these days, creating a stench within the House of Representatives chambers, and simply carry on as if there is nothing wrong.  (Every once in a while a representative can fall out of their seat screaming and lie on the floor, if they’d like.)  Eventually the Speaker would have to adjourn the session, because no one — especially someone who isn’t part of the action — wants to be sitting in a room with almost 200 people whose clothes are saturated with a half-gallon of three-day old blood apiece.

And then do it again every day — because that’s what gun violence is doing to our society.  That is a protest I could more easily defend.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)