Exquisite Demagoguery – Senator Whitehouse’s Inciteful Senate Floor Speech

Posted on December 22, 2009

Whitehouse after blizzard 12/2009 - Photo Reuters

The full text of Sheldon Whitehouse’s speech delivered December 20, 2009 on the Senate floor may be found at alternet.org. Below, Whitehouse’s words are in italics, my comments in bold.

Madam President, as we are here in the Senate today, Washington rests under a blanket of snow, reminding us here of the Christmas spirit across the nation — the spirit that is bringing families happily together for the holidays.

Unfortunately, a different spirit has descended on this Senate. The spirit that has descended on the Senate is one described by Chief Justice John Marshall back in the Burr trial: “those malignant and vindictive passions which rage in the bosoms of contending parties struggling for power.”

Above, Whitehouse has figuratively taken his argument against those to whom he only alludes to the Supreme Court of John Marshall’s day.  He makes an oblique but never direct reference to the GOP in the same breath as he mentions the infamous traitor, Aaron Burr. To delay their mention is an age-old literary device.

Whitehouse descends into the dark depths of demagoguery for much of the remainder of his speech, kicking his slanderous remarks up a notch.  He continues in his overview of historic persons whose words (“conspiracy,” “malignant” and “vindictive”) repeat and reverberate among each other. He quotes Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Hofstader who wrote of an  “aggrieved minority,” its power having been taken away, becoming “subversive.”

He artfully employs bombast to draw yet another historical parallel – that between the instigators behind Kristalnacht (precursor to the Holocaust) and the GOP to which he continues to refer obliquely.  He ascribes the same kind of evil passion and extreme views to the GOP as those ascribed to the Nazis.

The Senator continues to link Republicans with racism. He suggests that the aforementioned passions  and extreme views also have led to negro lynchings (trees with strange fruit).  Later  he talks about Republican racism being so great that it is hard for them to even “let Barack Obama exist.”  This is a troublesome conclusion.

Now, numerous paragraphs into his diatribe he finally mentions the GOP. Unhappily for Senator Whitehouse, he then goes on to condemn himself out of his own mouth. In 2007, he had supported a measure similar to the following he condemns: [legalinsurrection.com]

The lowest of the low was the Republican vote against funding and supporting our troops in the field at a time of war. As a device to stall health care, they tried to stop the appropriation of funds for our soldiers. There is no excuse for that; from that there is no return. Every single Republican member was willing to vote against cloture on funding our troops, and they admitted it was a tactic to obstruct health-care reform. The secretary of defense warned us all that a “no” vote “would immediately create a serious disruption in the worldwide activities of the Department of Defense.”

Finally, Whitehouse theorizes that:

…[T]he biggest reason for these desperate acts by our colleagues is that we are gathering momentum. And we are gathering strength. And we are working toward our goal of passing this legislation. And when we do, the lying time is over.


Our colleagues are behaving in this way — unprecedented, malignant and vindictive — because they are desperate to avoid that day of judgment. Frantic and desperate now, and willing to do strange and unprecedented things, willing to do anything — even to throw our troops at war in the way of that day of reckoning.


There will come a day of judgment — and our Republican friends know that. And that, Mr. President, is why they are terrified.

This is not a hastily thrown together speech. This has been carefully crafted over time utilizing careful research.  The concepts and the writing are as tight as a drum. It is a tribute to his linguistic genius that the entire speech (essay really) was headed toward skewering the Republicans on the final adjective he throws at them, “terrified.”

All of this vitriol directed toward dissenting colleagues boils down to an attack on free speech and the right of dissent. And this speech is among the finest examples of demagoguery I have ever heard.


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