Elizabeth Warren and Janet Nguyen probably don’t have much in common politically, but they share this: they were both told to shut up by people in power and that backfired in their favor.
If case you missed it, Massachusetts Democratic Senator Warren was giving a speech in the Senate chamber when she was ruled out of order and silenced. She was trying to read a letter from Coretta Scott King criticizing Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions when she was told she was violating the rules.
Nguyen, a state senator (R-Garden Grove), was stopped from completing a speech in that chamber in Sacramento. She was not only cut off, but also escorted out of the chamber like a shoplifter. Nguyen was seeking to criticize the late Tom Hayden’s support for communist North Vietnam during the war. As a refugee from South Vietnam, she certainly had a perspective on the consequences of the war’s outcome.
Both were wronged. Both were denied their right to say whatever they wanted on behalf of their constituents, as they saw it. But, you know, the silly people who shut them down have seen their arrogant behavior turned back against them.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch O’Connell’s “explanation” that Warren was silenced because she was warned to clam up, but “she persisted,” has become a rallying cry for liberals. It may even be a turning point in the 2020 presidential race, which began about one minute after the 2016 election was finished. Contributions have been pouring into her campaign coffers.
In the case of Nguyen, her stock is also up dramatically. The Los Angeles Times called her a “rising GOP star” and her profile as a possible candidate for statewide or federal office jumped. Being treated rudely in their respective senates may turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to Warren and Nguyen.
A skeptic – and I certainly put myself in that category – might suggest that both senators kept on talking because they knew (or suspected) it might engender a dumb and damaging response from the other side.
And that’s OK. Clearly, Warren and Nguyen were within their rights to speak their minds. If they also benefitted from the backlash over their silencing, that’s fine, too. That’s what we call “doing well by doing good.”
There is, I think, a larger lesson in all of this. When one side has its hands on all the levers of government, there is a powerful temptation to disregard civility and just run roughshod over the other guy. But the road is short that never turns.
During the rise of the Tea Party just a few years ago, Democratic legislators were yelled at and shouted down during town halls. Now that the left is aroused over the policies of President Trump, Republican lawmakers are getting the same treatment.
During the recent presidential campaign, supporters of Mr. Trump chanted, “Lock her up!” in reference to Hillary Clinton’s e-mail problems. Now, regarding Sessions’ missteps regarding Russia, liberals are chanting, “Lock him up!”
The feral expressions of hatred that have been churned up as we become more polarized go both ways. The new (or maybe it’s not so new) ethic is that whatever uncivil thing that was done to your side you can do to the other side with a clear conscience. An eye for an eye on cable TV news.
I’m not so innocent that I think fair play is going to come back onto the political stage anytime soon out of a flowering of decency. But perhaps, eventually, people will realize that whatever mean thing you do eventually will come back to bite you and yours on the fundament. As Yogi Berra said, “Struggle not with monsters, lest you become a monster.” Or to put it another way, don’t hit below the belt unless you are willing to be punched there yourself.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts appears each Wednesday. Usually.