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February 25, 2005

Vox Bloguli - Go Reed. Thomas Reed

Welcome Hugh Hewitt readers!

Hugh's offering a choice in response to Sen. Harry Reid's threat of judicial obstructionism. McClellan vs. Grant. Look, if your option is a general who treats victories like defeats (and pulls back) or one who defeats like victories (and advances), hey, whiskey for everyone! The analogy works in another way: Lincoln, seeing McClellan's inaction, famously asked him, "if you're not going to use the Army, do you mind if I borrow it for a while?" There's a reason you fight to win elections - to make judicious use of the institutions you win control of.

That said, I've alluded to a far closer analogy before. In Barbara Tuchman's wonderful survey of Europe and the US before WWI, The Proud Tower, she devotes a few pages to Republican Speaker of the House Thomas Reed, and his decision to overturn the "silent quorum." This was a means by which members could have a quorum for debate, and then prevent a vote by refusing to answer the roll. Since the Republican majority was so slim, it was difficult to assure an absolute majority of members would be present to vote, and the "silent quorum" was killing the House's ability to transact business.

Reed simply decided to end the practice. On the first quorum call, concerning the seating of two new House members, he ordered the clerk to mark as "present" a House member who didn't answer. When the representative objected, Reed boomed out, "the Speaker is merely noting that the Representative is present. Does he wish to dispute the fact?"

The floor of the House erupted. Realizing that he was risking renewed civil hostilities, Reed agreed to several days' debate on the question, and eventually he prevailed.

One interesting twist to the story. Reed was able to summon up the moral courage to win by deciding that he'd simply retire if he lost. He was an unmatched debater, and would have returned to Maine and resumed his successful law practice. Likewise, Sen. Frist is not running for re-election in 2006, so he has almost nothing to lose by standing up for the right to vote on judges.

Harry Reid, you're no Thomas Reed.

Posted by joshuasharf at February 25, 2005 02:46 PM | TrackBack

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