The Sound of Silence

February 8, 2017

Fed Chair Nominee Janet Yellen Testifies At Senate Confirmation Hearing


After hearing about the silencing of Elizabeth Warren by Mitch McConnell I took solace in revisiting Paul Simon’s iconic song of the mid 60’s, “The Sound of Silence.” Here’s the first verse…

  • Hello darkness, my old friend
  • I’ve come to talk with you again
  • Because a vision softly creeping
  • Left its seeds while I was sleeping
  • And the vision that was planted in my brain
  • Still remains
  • Within the sound of silence
  • (continued at the end of this article)

I’m reminded of those turbulent times  when that song was originally penned and heartened by the fact that in spite of the overwhelming power wielded by the likes of politicians of the period like LBJ, Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Henry Kissinger, and a host of supporting shadow-characters-in-crime, those rotten bastards are gone, done in by their own misdeeds. I have to say it looks like Trump is off to a good start and it’s only been two weeks! Nixon had his so-called silent majority, but it was the not so silent Americans, patriots all, that brought his sins and failures to light and in the very end, prevailed. It’s happening again and we shall prevail.

So it was that Mitch McConnell accused Elizabeth Warren of impugning the motives and conduct of “our colleague from Alabama,” moving the Senate to vote along party lines to silence her by citing Rule 19, an arcane provision in the rules stating that senators may not “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” Apparently this rule supercedes the truth, disregarding facts, which by their very nature cannot “impugn” but only testify.

So what, exactly, does it mean for a senator to “impugn” or “impute” a fellow senator?

From the dictionary: “impugn” –to challenge as false (another’s statements, motives, etc.); cast doubt upon.

You see, the Senate has a list of rules governing civility and decorum in its chamber and that list includes rule 19. After reading Rule 19, my first impression was that this was a rule developed by glib, post civil war Southerners sipping Mint Juleps on their plantation porch outside of Charleston, SC, the same sort of rule that requires that senators not refer to each other by name, but must always refer to their fellow senators as “my distinguished colleague, or as “the gentleman from such and such state.” According to Rick Santorum that rule was developed to further remove the possibility that a senator’s name might be maligned by an other member of that distinguished gentleman’s club and remain in public record.

Apparently it started in 1902 when a feud between two senators from South Carolina got ugly and turned into a fistfight, one accusing the other of treachery and corruption. The former responding to the latter by accusing him of “a willful, malicious and deliberate lie,” ultimately resulting in the Senate tightening its rules for floor debate by drafting Rule 19.

Senate Republicans used it to object to Warren’s use of the word “disgrace,” when she quoted from Ted Kennedy’s letter, referring to Sessions. Then as she attempted to read a letter from Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., she was censored from speaking further by Mitch McConnell citing Rule 19.

Warren responded, “I’m simply reading what she wrote about what the nomination of Sessions to be a federal court judge meant and what it would mean in history for her.” King’s letter said that Sessions “lacks the temperament, fairness and judgment to be a federal judge,” and accused him of pursuing a “shabby” voter fraud case against African American activists during the time he was prosecutor. Warren, now barred from speaking on the Senate floor regarding Sessions’s nomination reacted by reading the text of King’s letter outside the doors of the Senate streaming it live Tuesday night. Warren remarked, “I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate.”

The Sound of Silence (cont’d)

  • In restless dreams I walked alone
  • Narrow streets of cobblestone
  • ‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
  • I turned my collar to the cold and damp
  • When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
  • That split the night
  • And touched the sound of silence
  • And in the naked light I saw
  • Ten thousand people, maybe more
  • People talking without speaking
  • People hearing without listening
  • People writing songs that voices never share
  • And no one dared
  • Disturb the sound of silence
  • Fools, said I, you do not know
  • Silence like a cancer grows
  • Hear my words that I might teach you
  • Take my arms that I might reach you
  • But my words, like silent raindrops fell
  • And echoed in the wells
  • of silence 
  • And the people bowed and prayed
  • To the neon god they made
  • And the sign flashed out its warning I
  • n the words that it was forming
  • And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
  • And tenement halls
  • And whispered in the sounds of silence

With Thanks to Paul Simon for his genius, ethics and moral guidance, words more true today than ever.


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