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 		 [Republicans are siding with a Democratic segregationist over a
GOP war hero to own the libs.] [https://portside.org/] 

 WILL THE RUSSELL BUILDING BE RENAMED FOR JOHN MCCAIN?  
[https://portside.org/node/18059] 

 

 Matthew Yglesias 
 August 29, 2018
Vox
[https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/8/29/17792592/russell-senate-office-building-mccain]


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 _ Republicans are siding with a Democratic segregationist over a GOP
war hero to own the libs. _ 

 Sen. John McCain on October 25, 2017., Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call 

 

Soon after the announcement of Sen. John McCain’s death, Senate
Minority Leader Chuck Schumer came out with a striking suggestion
to rename the Russell Senate Office Building
[http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/08/27/senate-leaders-honor-mccain-as-schumer-proposes-renaming-russell-senate-office-building.html]after
the late Arizona senator.

It would be a dramatic step, to be sure. There aren’t many
congressional office buildings around, and a lot of noteworthy
senators from American history lack formal commemoration. But it also
seems like an elegant solution to the somewhat embarrassing reality
that even though former Sen. Richard Russell (D-GA) was an iconic
figure in his day, he was also an arch-segregationist and the key
legislative leader of the white supremacist movement in America during
its final two decades of formal high-level political authority.

Simply swapping out Russell for a more conventional liberal Democrat
(Ted Kennedy, say) would be a hard sell in a polarized environment.
But why not swap out a Democrat whom contemporary Democrats don’t
like for a Republican who is broadly respected on both sides of the
aisle? The fact that honoring McCain serves as a sub rosa way of
slamming President Donald Trump — and the fact that Trump is clearly
annoyed by the impulse to honor McCain — only makes it all the
better.

But of course, for Republicans, that’s precisely the problem.
McCain, though a fairly reliable GOP vote, certainly annoyed his
fellow Republicans plenty of times over the years by being less
reliable than your average Senate Republican. And while few in the
caucus share Trump’s level of distaste for the man, almost none of
them want to openly cross Trump.

Consequently, we are now witnessing the odd spectacle of Republican
senators trying to stop a Democratic plan to swap out a white
supremacist Democrat in favor of a war hero Republican. Relative to
most political controversies, the stakes here are genuinely minimal.
But as a symbol of the sweeping changes in American politics over the
decades — and the ways the racial realignment of the 1960s continues
to roil the political landscape — it’s hard to think of anything
more perfect.

Who was Richard Russell?

Richard Russell got his start in politics early, winning election to
the Georgia state legislature at 24, becoming speaker of the Georgia
House of Representatives soon after, and becoming governor of the
state at age 33 in 1930.

Russell was a progressive in the context of Georgia politics at the
time, and when Sen. William Harris died in 1932, Russell won a special
election to fill the remaining years in his term as a New Dealer. His
successor as governor of Georgia, Eugene Talmadge, was from the more
conservative faction of the Georgia Democratic Party and challenged
Russell for renomination in 1936.

Russell beat him handily, positioning himself as a pro-Roosevelt,
pro-New Deal legislator. But after the 1938 midterms, in which
liberals generally fared poorly, Russell aligned himself clearly with
the so-called Conservative Coalition
[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_coalition], an unofficial
alignment of mostly Midwestern Republicans and mostly Southern
Democrats who held the majority in Congress and acted to ensure that
though the New Deal would not be rolled back, there would also be no
further expansion of the welfare state.

Intraparty ideological tensions were swiftly muted by the growing
storm of World War II, since Roosevelt, though a liberal on domestic
issues, was hawkish on foreign affairs and so were conservative
Southern Democrats. Russell championed the war and agricultural
interests, and in 1946 bridged some of the gap inside the party by
authoring the National School Lunch Act, an important anti-poverty
measure that also served as a subsidy to farmers.

As chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he headed the
investigation into Harry Truman’s decision to fire Gen. Douglas
MacArthur. Russell was generally seen as having successfully
smoothed over a difficult situation. He was a candidate for the
Democratic presidential nomination in 1952, but even though he was an
influential senator, it was simply no longer acceptable in national
Democratic Party politics to be a staunch segregationist like he was.

He became instead a mentor to Lyndon Johnson, who ended up breaking
with Russell on civil rights first in a small way over the weak Civil
Rights Act of 1957 and later and more dramatically over the strong
Civil Rights Act of 1964. But despite their differences on this,
Russell continued to be a close Johnson ally on some domestic issues
and especially on the war in Vietnam. The war eventually
alienated Johnson from the liberals he had aligned with on racial
issues. Russell won reelection in 1966 and died of emphysema in 1971,
thus passing from the scene before the tides of racial realignment
swept down ballot in the 1970s and ’80s.

A year after his death, the Beaux Arts Senate office building on
Constitution Avenue was named after him.

How did Russell get an office building named after him?

Construction began on what was to become the Russell Building in 1903,
and it opened six years later.

Throughout the 19th century, both the House and Senate had
continuously added new members, and the Capitol Building consequently
became overcrowded. Both the Russell Building and what is now the
Cannon House Office Building were commissioned to provide the
additional space. The structure expanded in 1933 and did not yet have
a name at the time of Russell’s death.

The former senator was, importantly, seen at the time as a moderate on
racial issues for a white Southerner. He didn’t endorse Strom
Thurmond in 1948, he didn’t defend lynchings or Ku Klux Klan
terrorism, and he didn’t engage in the kind of over-the-top
demagogic rhetoric associated with Southern senators like Theodore
Bilbo or “Cotton” Ed Smith. Thus, at the time of his death, he was
seen primarily as a long-serving and influential moderate senator
who’d been at the center of a lot of important political events.

The 1970s were also a time when both parties saw the South as a key
swing area (in 1976, Jimmy Carter would win the White House by
carrying all the old Confederate states while losing Illinois,
California, and Vermont), and Russell was _the_ leading Southern
legislative figure of the mid-20th century.

The political tradition to which Russell belonged — supportive of
most of the New Deal and some of the Great Society but critical of
civil rights — died out rather swiftly after his death. Modern-day
Southern Democrats like Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) rely heavily on
African-American voters, while modern-day Southern Republicans are
more consistently right-wing on economics. Consequently, there’s no
particularly vociferous pro-Russell constituency out there.

(McCain himself once opposed the creation of making Martin Luther
King Jr. Day a federal holiday
[https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2008/apr/08/moveon/mccain-changed-position-on-mlk-day/],
but he later recanted on this subject, saying in 2008, “We can be
slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I myself made long
ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King. I
was wrong.”)

Then again, that’s not necessarily so surprising — several
congressional office buildings are named after profoundly obscure
figures like Philip Hart or Nicholas Longworth, who are best known
these days for having buildings named after him.

So what’s the problem with the renaming?

Here’s where things get a little weird. The epicenter of opposition
to the name switch seems to come from the Georgia Republican Party,
and in particular Sen. David Perdue, who thinks it’s unfair
[https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/richard-russell-mccain-senate_us_5b8587a1e4b0511db3d22bd4?ncid=engmodushpmg00000004] to
un-memorialize a former Georgia senator over what he calls “one
issue.”

What’s odd, though, is that while Perdue does not defend Russell’s
defense of segregation, he also doesn’t defend Russell’s role in
expanding the welfare state. He’s just anti-anti-segregation:

“He did so many other things,” Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) told
reporters on Tuesday, citing Russell’s creation of the school lunch
program. “He was a big supporter of the Great Society, the War on
Poverty. Now, we all know those things failed, but he was a big
champion of them.”

Perdue added, “This was a guy who was a giant in the Senate. This
renaming thing because of one issue, it’s somewhat troubling.”

In short, Perdue doesn’t like Russell’s record on economics, and
he doesn’t like his record on race either. But he more fundamentally
doesn’t like the idea of penalizing Russell for his record on race.

That sounds odd, in part because it kind of is odd, but if you think
about the broader context of contemporary politics, it kind of makes
sense. Southern Republicans have, after all, repositioned the party
of Lincoln to be the party of defending Confederate memorials against
“politically correct” Democrats who want to take them down
[https://www.vox.com/2016/7/20/12148750/republican-party-trump-lincoln].
The pro-memorial stance requires a politics of anti-anti-racism that
essentially requires them to stand by Russell.

Separately, but complementarily, it’s obvious that Trump didn’t
like McCain
[https://www.vox.com/2018/8/27/17786018/john-mccain-trump-funeral-flag-tweet],
doesn’t like the idea of honoring McCain, and would be annoyed by
any Republicans who stepped up aggressively in favor of a pro-McCain
stance. Consequently, the majority of the GOP caucus is left standing
around in a somewhat paralyzed state as the party finds itself taking
the side of a long-dead Democratic segregationist over a popular,
recently deceased member of their own party.

This seems unlikely to be a major voting consideration for anyone in
November, but as far as these things go, it has to be seen as a solid
tactical win for Schumer and the Democrats.

_Matthew Yglesias co-founded Vox.com with Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell
back in the spring of 2014. He's currently a senior correspondent
focused on politics and economic policy, and co-hosts The Weeds
podcast twice a week on Tuesdays and Fridays. Before launching Vox, he
was the author of the Moneybag column for Slate and before that he
wrote and blogged for Think Progress, The Atlantic, TPM, and The
American Prospect. Yglesias is the author of two books, most recently
"The Rent Is Too Damn High" about the policy origins of the middle
class housing affordability crisis in America. Yglesias was born and
raised in New York City, but has lived in Washington DC since
graduating college in 2003._

_Vox explains the news._

_We live in a world of too much information and too little context.
Too much noise and too little insight. And so Vox's journalists
candidly shepherd audiences through politics and policy, business and
pop culture, food, science, and everything else that matters. You can
find our work wherever you live on the internet — Facebook
[https://www.facebook.com/Vox/], YouTube
[https://www.youtube.com/vox], email
[http://vox.com/newsletters], iTunes
[http://www.vox.com/pages/podcasts], Snapchat
[https://www.snapchat.com/discover/Vox/0612621079], Instagram
[https://www.instagram.com/voxdotcom/], and more._

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