The Games People Play

The other day I watched as a somber Senator Schumer, on the verge of literally once again affirming the moniker given him by our President, “cryin Chuck,” spoke before the United States Senate memorializing Senator John McCain. In the course of his remarks he offered a suggestion regarding a tangible and fitting memorial to his fellow senators honoring the lifetime service to our nation by the late Senator. His suggestion – rename the Russell Senate office building, which houses the offices of senior senators, now to be called the McCain office building.

In all honesty, the first thought that came to my mind were the words of a song written by Joe South.

Oh the games people play now
Every night and every day now
Never meaning what they say now
Never saying what they mean

And they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers
Till they’re covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine

May I begin my explanation by reminding you who Senator Richard Russell, for whom the building was named, was and what he represented.

“Richard Brevard Russell Jr. (November 2, 1897 – January 21, 1971) was an American politician. A member of the Democratic Party. He served… in the United States Senate for almost 40 years, from 1933 to 1971. Russell was a founder and leader of the conservative coalition that dominated Congress from 1937 to 1963, and at his death was the most senior member of the Senate. He was for decades a leader of Southern opposition to the civil rights movement… Russell supported racial segregation and co-authored the Southern Manifesto with Strom Thurmond. Russell and 17 fellow Democratic and one Republican Senators blocked the passage of civil rights legislation via the filibuster. After Russell’s protégé, President Lyndon B. Johnson, signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, Russell led a Southern boycott of the 1964 Democratic National Convention.” (Wikipedia) Yes, the good Senator was a dyed in the wool, segregationist, and a racist, the leader for years of the Democrat opposition to integration and equal rights for Black Americans in the United States Senate.

In his own words:

“As one who was born and reared in the atmosphere of the Old South with six generations of my forebears now resting beneath Southern soil, I am willing to go as far and make as great a sacrifice to preserve and insure white supremacy in the social, economic, and political life of our state as any man who lives within her borders.”

“This is a white man’s country, yes, and we are going to keep it that way”

“We will resist to the bitter end,” Russell once told the Senate, “any measure or any movement which would have a tendency to bring about social equality and intermingling and amalgamation of the races in our [Southern] states.”  .

Yet in 1972, a year after the Senator’s demise, the oldest Senate office building was named for this bigot – eight years after President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill. (July 2, 1964) “Oh the games people play… Never meaning what they say now
never saying what they mean… And they wile away the hours
In their ivory towers…”

The Senate, indeed the Congress, is an ivory tour in which their personal friendships outweigh their public actions and stands which define and mold our very society. “Never meaning what they say now never saying what they mean…” Today, with the wave of latter day Christians desecrating the statues of pagan Rome, the left ripping down any memorial to the leadership of the “old south”, it took the death of Senator McCain for the Senate to reconsider the name of their senior office building, named for the protector of the life style of that “old south”, Senator Richard Russell, to be changed.

This ivory tour of politicians has done the very same in the not too distant past.  Remember the picture of our first Black President standing in respect and homage before the casket of the late Grand Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan laying in state in the rotunda of the United States Congress?  Of course I’m referring to Senator Robert Byrd.

In the early 1940s Byrd brought together a number of his friends to form a chapter – a klavern – of the Ku Klux Klan. He solicited from each of them $10 for membership and $3 for a robe and hood. The grand dragon for the Mid-Atlantic States region came to Byrd’s community to officially open the chapter. Byrd was elected the so-called exalted cyclops of his Klavern.

Byrd said that at the time he viewed the Klan as merely a fraternal group of “understanding people” – doctors, lawyers, clergy – who never preached violence or prejudice against Blacks, Catholics or Jews.

In 1948 Byrd wrote to the notoriously segregationist Theodore Bilbo, a Democratic senator from Mississippi, regarding President Truman’s desire to integrate the American military. Byrd said he would never fight in the armed forces “with a Negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels.”

And yet the members of the United State Senate decided to honor this racist by allowing his remains to lay in State in the rotunda of the capital building of the United States   “Oh the games people play… Never meaning what they say now, never saying what they mean… And they wile away the hours in their ivory towers…”

As Jews we constantly remind the world “Never Forget”

Recently a sick, elderly man from Jackson Heights,  Queens was carted out of his hone on a gurney in an ambulance, uprooted from his home and family and shipped off for trial in Germany because he was found to have lied about his sorted past as a minor player in Hitler’s final solution –  “just following orders.” The Jewish community praised the role President Trump played in finally bringing this Nazi collaborator to justice. Senator Schumer, together with other politicians, signed a letter to Secretary Tillerson which read in part, “Removing Mr. Palij from American soil will send a message not only to the citizens of New York, but to the entire world. It will make clear that the United States does not condone hatred and will not shelter those who have committed atrocities against innocents. For Holocaust survivors, Mr. Palij’s deportation will confirm that the heinous crimes committed against them during the Nazi era will never be forgotten.” And yet it takes the death of Senator McCain to consider removing the name of the leading and most influential American segregationist for decades in the United States Senate, Richard Russell, from the senior Senate office building! Schumer, as a Jew and as an American, should have led the call for this action many years ago.

One must ask Senator Schumer, are we as Jews only concerned with the horrors rained upon our own?  Do we not empathize with the suffering of our fellow American citizens, Black Americans, not only in the times of slavery but for many years after the Civil War ended at the hands of those, who because of their pivotal position and influence gave acceptability to the policies of the “old south,” in the august chambers of Congress, men like Senators Byrd and Russell? And how were these “policies” maintained? Fear, murder, torture were the tools on the ground administered by the Klan and Klan sympathizers.

Why is it that I am a bit cynical concerning Senator Schumer’s suggestion? Perhaps, knowing the mixed feelings our President and some members of the Republican Party have toward Senator McCain, a man long known as a maverick, his most recent action NOT voting for and in consequence scuttling the Republican touted plan to repeal and replace Obama Care, and hopeful that some Republicans will express negative views regarding Schumer’s proposal, the Jewish Senator from New York, made his proposal as a politically motivated effort. Its purpose – nurture further rancor within the ranks of the Republicans which, no doubt, would bring more condemnation upon our President and the Party in total for not wholeheartedly endorsing this significant honor to the memory of Senator John McCain.  Or am I being too cynical? History tells me otherwise.



About the Author
Retired and residing in Jackson, New Jersey, Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz was the rav of Agudas Achim North Shore Congregation in Chicago. During his nearly five decades in the rabbinate he led congregations in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. He served as an officer, Executive Committee member and chair of the Legislative Committee of the Chicago Rabbinical Council.
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