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Opening Arguments

Rush to judgment

Nothing is quite as entertaining as Chicago politics:

Rep. Bobby Rush says he doesn't think any U.S. senator would be caught turning a black man away from serving alongside them.

[. . .]

Rush, D-Ill., dared Senate Democrats Tuesday to block Roland Burris from becoming the Senate's only black member, urging them not to "hang and lynch" the former state attorney general for the alleged corruption by his patron, Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

[. . .]

In an interview Wednesday, Burris didn't back away from Rush's assertion. "It is a fact, there are no African-Americans in the United States Senate," he said on NBC's "Today." "Is it racism that is taking place? That's a question that someone may raise."

To even try such race-baiting with an African American about to enter the White House is pretty brazen even for Chicago politics, but in the past such tactics have worked pretty well. But Barack Obama is siding with the Senate Democrats who say they want nothing to do with a Blagojevich appointee, so maybe we'll see the beginning of the end of such nonsense. (Not that Senate Democrats are guaranteed to win this battle. In a 1969 case, the Supreme Court rebuked the House for not seating Adam Clayton Powell and said Congress did not have discretionary power to refuse to seat new members who were constitutionally qualified. The court was talking about elected membes, though -- who knows if the ruling would apply to appointed ones?)

As an aside, Burris' admonition against "hanging and lynching" might sound odd, but it's not wrong -- the two aren't the same thing. "Lynching," probably from Charles Lynch, a Virginia justice of the peace of the Revolutionary War era who favored the quick dispatching of Tories, just means extralegal killings. People have, in fact, been lynched by shooting, stoning, burning and any number of creative ways besides hanging.

There has only been one certifiably great movie about lynching that I know of, 1943's "The Ox-Bow Incident" starring Henry Fonda. Here's ( watch?v=lljIrAfBzYs ) the scene in which Fonda reads the letter from the lynched man; it's a compelling indictment against mob rule. People are so racially sensitized these days that they're afraid to even say the word, but lynching as a metaphor for lawlessness and the mindlessness of mobs, especially in an Old West mythology context, could still be a useful rhetorical device.