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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Unnoted Progress

The November election and its aftermath consumed whole pulpwood forests and many tankers of ink and trillions of electronic pixels, but there's still one thing that needs to be noted.  Wondrously enough, it is good news – and I guess it also is good news that we have the luxury of overlooking our cultural progress. 


I was in high school when John F. Kennedy, a Catholic Democrat, narrowly won the 1960 election.  In my Ozark area, I clearly remember that the chief issue was the fact that he was Catholic.  People who had voted Democratic their entire lives switched to Republican and cast their ballots for Richard Nixon because they truly believed that the Pope would take over America if we elected a Catholic president.


I didn't realize until later how much Nixon had done to flame that fear.  When he finally won in1968, Nixon's "Southern Strategy" unambiguously aimed at whites angry about the end of segregation, but it wasn't until recently that I realized that the 1968 bias just built on that of 1960, which posited Catholicism as the enemy. 


And this evil man claimed that his own religion – which he never practiced in word or in deed – was Quakerism.  What an irony that it was the world's first tolerant and pacifist religion!  He claimed it because he grew up in Whittier, California, which was named for Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier.  Nixon never seemed to understand the religion's basic principles or anything about Whittier himself.  He was a true liberal, and much of his writing aimed at peacefully ending slavery.


By the way, if you think that Puritans and Quakers were alike, please think again.  The Puritans who settled Massachusetts were so intolerant that they executed Quakers who dared to be in their midst.  One was Mary Dyer, the mother of five, who was hanged on Boston Common on June 1, 1660.  Especially if you are a Baptist who proclaims Roger Williams' contribution to religious liberty, please remember Dyer.  He was merely banned from Boston; she died for the principle. 





Let's leap forward from 1660 to 1960 and then on to 2020.  Voters (at least those who pay attention) knew that Joe Biden is a faithful Catholic, but I never once saw that used against him in the way that Republican Nixon used Democrat Kennedy's faith against him in 1960.  Not even Donald Trump sank so low, and that is real progress.  It truly is noteworthy that we have become a more tolerant nation during the last half-century.  Many more people who like to praise individual liberty now finally are putting that platitude into practice.


I remember, too, how Geraldine Ferraro was castigated for her beliefs when she was the Democratic vice-presidential nominee in 1984.  Her fellow Catholics were especially hard on her, insisting that she answer detailed questions on reproductive rights that never were asked of men, Catholic or not.  While we are on the subject, let me also point out that although Republicans now consider Catholics to be a big part of their base, they have yet to nominate any. 


All three Catholic nominees – in 1928, 1960, and 2020 – have been Democrats.  You know Biden in 2020 and Kennedy in 1960, but case you don't know, the first was New York Governor Al Smith.  Voters instead opted for Republican Herbert Hoover, a Protestant from Iowa.  Like Donald Trump, Hoover's credentials were in business, not government, and you know how that worked out.


The trend of religious tolerance – or the lack of it – is even more noteworthy in the case of Vice President Kamala Harris.  Unlike Geraldine Ferraro's nearly traumatic treatment by the media, I don't recall seeing any obtrusive attention to Harris' faith.  I checked the internet for you:  she credits her Hindu mother and aunts for influencing her, and a neighbor took her to an African-American church where she sang in the choir.  Her Jamaican father was brought up Anglican, but her parents divorced when she was young. 


Both were Berkeley professors, with her mother in biology and her father in economics.  Harris' mother, in fact, was so brilliant that she was admitted to graduate school at age 19 – in 1958, when female scientists were rare, especially girls from India.  These and other women provide daily inspiration now for the half of the population that has been handicapped by gender throughout human history.  Putting aside biases and putting all of our brain power to work will make tremendously positive change and ultimately benefit even those who oppose change.




I'm not only old enough to remember the 1960 election, I'm also old enough to remember historic filibustering.  I can't explain, however, why contemporary Senate Democrats have allowed Republicans to bully them into demanding super-majorities on every major legislative decision.  I think it has a lot to do with modern terminology:  Too-young media guys have accepted and even promoted the phrase "nuclear option" on this issue.  That's a real insult to actual nuclear behavior, and it has to stop.


So, for those – probably all of us – who are confused: the filibuster is a Senate tradition that allows one senator to take the floor and refuse to give it up.  Ostensibly in protection of minority rights, this senatorial courtesy never is mentioned in the Constitution, even though those who historically have used it also claim to be literal constructionists of the Constitution.  They are people desperately opposed to change, even change that is so clearly needed that they stand virtually alone in their opposition.


Since the decades just prior to the Civil War, the filibuster has been used to delay and block legislation that was likely to pass.  By invoking their individual right to unlimited debate on a bill, conservative senators effectively have insisted on a 2/3 supermajority because closing debate (cloture) requires that.  They planned their filibusters ahead, passing the floor to each other for hours and days on end.


South Carolina's notorious racist Strom Thurmond – who later acknowledged fathering a child with a black woman – was the all-time champion at this.  He held the Senate floor for 24 hours and 18 minutes in 1957, after the Supreme Court issued its historic ruling on school integration.  I don't remember 1957, but I do remember the filibuster against the 1964 Civil Rights Act. 


After holding the floor for 14 hours, segregationist Senator Robert Byrd of Virginia turned it over to his allies, and the Senate was tied up in a filibuster for more than two months during the summer of 1964.  Vice President Hubert Humphrey finally found enough bipartisan votes to provide the necessary 67; cloture was voted; and the bill passed.  It outlawed discrimination in many areas, and with the 1965 Voting Rights Act, absolutely revolutionized race relations in America.


But what I remember from my youthful impression is those US senators who read the telephone book aloud because they had nothing substantive to say, and yet were too stubborn to give up their right to endless obstruction.  Nor has that stopped: Senator Rand Paul, R-KY, spoke for 13 hours in 2013 to oppose an Obama nomination, and later that year, Ted Cruz, R-TX, entertained his colleagues by reading "Green Eggs and Ham" while holding forth in opposition to the Affordable Health Act.


So I say, let them employ their "nuclear option."  Let them read phone books aloud and see what kind of impression that makes on voters.  And let me reiterate a bit of wisdom from President Woodrow Wilson:  "The greatest freedom of speech is the greatest liberty, for if a man is a fool, let him demonstrate it."




You probably guessed when you saw "Ted Cruz," that I would have to mention his Mexican vacation.  The man not only lacks empathy, he also lacks brains.  I think his career is over.  But I don't know what to think about the weather in Texas. 


I suppose it is another of Mother Nature's warnings that she intends long-term climate change – but I also remember the snow we had in Tampa in 1977.  We had moved from Massachusetts less than five years earlier, and when Hubby woke me to say that there was snow on the ground, I replied that I had seen snow before and went back to sleep.  I was astonished when I got up a few hours later, and it was still there. 


Then in the 1980s, we had ice.  I have photos of the orange grove across the street with a foot of ice at the base of trees – and there was no sprinkler system, so it was not a deliberate action.  Acres and acres of East Hillsborough land that provided sweet perfume in the spring and fruit in the fall were burned and never replanted.  Winters certainly have been warm enough lately to successfully grow citrus again, but the lords of the economy instead have decided to grow houses.


I also remember several of my political friends who rushed to judgment on this.  The Temple Terrace City Council seriously considered budgeting to buy snow plows and to store sand for ice.  It's now some forty years later, and I haven't even worn a coat during recent winters.  So I'm drawing no conclusions – except that I will continue to listen to the experts and to support a green-energy economy, which we need for multiple other reasons.


Finally, my colleague Joe O'Neill recently quoted NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about Tampa Bay's "can do attitude" and "how they get things done."  Thanks, Mr. Goodell.  Next time, though, please add a sentence about how these "can do" people are Democrats.  Yes, it was yours truly who was behind the billboard that greeted delegates to the Republican convention: "Welcome to Tampa, where the mayor and all city council members are Democrats."  That was true in 2012, and it's still true in 2021.  And three recent mayors have been women, including a lesbian.  Times change.



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