(Warning: long post ahead. Might want to go refill your coffee cup.)
In Wednesday's Washington Post, columnist Dana Milbank wrote a scathing attack
on Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for his opposition to the immigration bill that passed today in the U.S. Senate. Professor Michael DeBow has an excellent rebuttal over at Southern Appeal
, but I want to add my two cents, as well.
From the very first paragraph, Milbank makes it clear that he does not intend to argue with Senator Sessions about whether or not the Senate immigration bill is in the nation's best interest. Instead, he launches into an attack on the Senator's character and motives:
Alabama's Jeff Sessions sure knows how to nurse a grudge. Talking about his family earlier this year, the Republican senator recalled that "Lincoln killed one of them at Antietam."
Now he is turning his prodigious anger on legislation the Senate is expected to approve on Thursday that would allow millions of illegal immigrants to become citizens.
Here's the exchange that Milbank was referring to, from his March 3, 2006 column
..."My great-great-great-great-grandfather was an immigrant, I'm proud to say," offered Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). "The last one got here about 1850."
"Did they miss the Civil War, Senator?" Specter inquired.
"Lincoln killed one of them at Antietam," the senator from Alabama rejoined.
So, is Sessions "nursing a grudge", as Milbank states, or is there more to it than that? As it turns out, this is not the first time Sen. Sessions has referred to his ancestor who died at Antietem (or Sharpsburg, as those of us from the South call it). On June 20, 2000, Senator Sessions spoke on the Senate floor
regarding a bill on U.S. assistance to Colombia. Here's what he said (Pay particular attention to the words in bold):
Instability in Columbia, should it occur, would knock down and damage one of our strongest trading partners. Colombia has 40 million people. Those people trade with the United States to a heavy degree. It would be a tragedy if they were to sink into chaos and could not maintain a viable economy. We have a self-interest in that, but we have a real human interest in trying to make sure we utilize our abilities, our resources, to help that nation to right itself and take back its territory.
As I had occasion to say to [then-Colombian] President Pastrana recently: I want to see that we help. I want to help you strengthen your country. But I would like you to think about a great American. I would like you to think about Abraham Lincoln, who was faced with division of his country. Nearly 50 percent of his country had fallen under the hands of the Southern States. He had to make a big, tough decision. That decision was whether he was going to accede to that, was he going to allow the United States to be divided. He decided no, and he rallied the American people.
In the course of it, as I told Senator Biden, at one point when we discussed it, he had the occasion to have my grandfather killed at Antietam, who fought for the South at that time. But that was a tough war. It was a tough decision. But in the long run, this country is better because we are unified today.
That puts things into a little different perspective, doesn't it? Far from "nursing a grudge," Sessions acknowledges that Lincoln was "a great American" and that "this country is better because we are unified today." So, from the very first paragraph of Milbank's column, he proves himself to be a second-rate journalist and a first-rate a**hole. It gets even better (or worse, depending on your perspective):
A short, wiry man with protruding ears, Sessions has become the Lou Dobbs of the Senate. He argues his points not with the courtly Southern tones of the late senator Howell Heflin (D), his predecessor, but with the harsh twang of a country tough -- which, in a sense, he is.
I'm not sure what being short, wiry, and big-eared have to do with anything, but sadly, those may be the most factual
statements in Milbank's entire piece.
To call Senator Sessions the "Lou Dobbs of the Senate" is beyond ludicrous. Unlike Lou Dobbs, Sessions has been a devoted advocate of free trade throughout his term in the Senate. Most recently, he voted in favor of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). He has also supported free trade deals with Singapore and Chile, and voted to grant most-favored nation trade status to China. That's a far cry from Lou Dobbs's "Exporting America" demagoguery.
Continuing on, Milbank says:
Sessions was one of just nine senators to oppose a ban on torture.
Milbank is referring to the Senator's vote against the McCain Amendment to the 2005 Defense Appropriations Act. NRO's Andy McCarthy discussed the details of that amendment here
, and here
. Senator Sessions defended his vote in a December 14, 2005 interview on Hardball with Chris Matthews
MATTHEWS: What do you make—you were one of the nine senators that voted in this—voted against the McCain Amendment on this torture issue. Where do you stand on the use of tough treatment of terrorists or other kinds of prisoners who aren't normally considered combatants?
SESSIONS: You know, this nation does not accept torture. We prosecute and we discipline people who violate our laws. We have threedy (ph) commitments and we have American law. We have an explicit American law that prohibits torture.
But it does not prohibit some stress on individuals, it does not that a prisoner has to be kept in his own country if they are an unlawful combatant. And these combatants are not covered by the Geneva Conventions. They operate outside of rules of law, of international warfare, and therefore they are not protected by the Geneva Convention.
The president has said they will be treated with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and they will not be tortured. But no, I was a little worried about the language there. I'm hopeful that Senator Warner and Senator McCain can reach some language that does not unduly restrict our ability to stress individuals who have critically important information. They should not be tortured, however. That's against our law and cannot be condoned.
For more commentary on the McCain Amendment: read Rich Lowry in this December 15 column
and the National Review
editorial board here
. The point is...saying that a vote against the McCain Amendment constitutes opposition to a ban on torture is just flat-out wrong.
(Still with me? Sorry this post is getting a wee bit long, but I'm gonna keep going till I get finished.)
Here's Milbank again:
He [Sessions] has raised objections about renewing the Voting Rights Act.
Here are the facts
: Sessions has indeed expressed reservations about renewing one particular section
of the Voting Rights Act. Under Section 5 of the VRA
, certain states have to "pre-clear" any and all changes to their election laws or procedures with the U.S. Department of Justice. Section 5 applies to only a few states: Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, and parts of Arizona, North Carolina, Idaho and Hawaii. No one else. Senator Sessions thinks it may be time to change that. Here's the Birmingham News, on May 10, 2006
"We don't want a fight over this," Sessions said in an interview after a congressional hearing on the topic. "Alabama is proud of its accomplishments, but we have the right to ask why other areas of the country are not covered by it."
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act - which requires local government officials to get Department of Justice approval of changes to voting rules and procedures - applies to nine states, including Alabama. The section also applies to individual counties or townships in seven other states, all with a long history of discriminating against groups of minority voters. In 41 years, it has not only protected the right of blacks to vote, it has led to historic numbers of black elected officials. In 1970, there were 565 across the South; in 2000, there were 5,579.
"The people of Alabama understand this change is good and the people of my state don't ... have any interest in moving away from this great right of everybody to vote," Sessions said. ...
Sessions, a Republican from Mobile, argued that local election officials without a history of discrimination have earned the right to make changes - such as moving a polling place - without having to first prove their actions are not discriminatory. "People get a little irritated about that," Sessions said.
Sessions also said it should be easier for states to break free of the law. Although the Voting Rights Act currently allows for such "bail outs," only a handful of counties in Virginia have demonstrated 10 years worth of a clean record on discrimination, and are no longer subject to Section 5. Alabama has never applied for a bail out. ...
Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act originally was written to be temporary, and Congress has voted to extend it several times over the years. Sessions and another Southern senator said other areas of the country may need Section 5 coverage, such as Boston.
Now that we've cleared that
up...on to the next Milbank muddle:
In the days after Hurricane Katrina, according to Time magazine, Sessions, pushing for repeal of the estate tax, called a former law professor to see if he knew of any business owner who died in the storm.
the Time Magazine article Milbank is talking about. It says:
Federal troops aren't the only ones looking for bodies on the Gulf Coast. On Sept. 9, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions called his old law professor Harold Apolinsky, co-author of Sessions' legislation repealing the federal estate tax, which was encountering sudden resistance on the Hill. Sessions had an idea to revitalize their cause, which he left on Apolinsky's voice mail: "[Arizona Sen.] Jon Kyl and I were talking about the estate tax. If we knew anybody that owned a business that lost life in the storm, that would be something we could push back with."Here's a related Decatur Daily story
, in which Sessions is said to have responded, "I was simply saying let's look at some families. It was never a matter of big import to me. It was just a thought."
Well, whaddya know? Milbank actually told the truth for once. I think it's fairly obvious, though, that Senator Sessions wasn't the only
one doing a bit of "legislative ambulance-chasing" following Hurricane Katrina. Does the name Mary Landrieu ring a bell?
Sessions has joined the immigration debate with typical ferocity, impugning the motives of those who disagree with him. "We have quite a number of members of the House and Senate and members in the media who are all in favor of reforms and improvements as long as they don't really work," he said last week of those who opposed the 370 miles of fencing. "But good fences make good neighbors. Fences don't make bad neighbors."
The senator evidently hadn't consulted the residents of Korea, Berlin or the West Bank.
Hmmm...evidently Dana Milbank
hasn't consulted the residents of Mexico
on the idea of a wall. From today's New York Times
SEATTLE, May 24 — To build, or not to build, a border of walls? The debate in the United States has started some Mexicans thinking it is not such a bad idea.
Nationalist outrage and accusations of hypocrisy over the prospect have filled airwaves and front pages in Mexico, as expected, fueled by presidential campaigns in which appeals to national pride are in no short supply. But, surprisingly, another view is gaining traction: that good fences can make good neighbors.
Yes-sir-ree. According to the New York Times, lots of Mexicans are coming around to the view "that real walls, not the porous ones that stand today, could be more an opportunity than an attack."
That's it...I'm done...except for one more thought:
Back in 2004, Dana Milbank co-authored a column with David Broder entitled "Hopes for Civility in Washington are Dashed
." To quote the Instapundit..."Indeed." Perhaps Mr. Milbank should re-read his own material from time to time.