Whither the Republicans?
The Legislative Story Begins
President Johnson Acts
Action in the Senate
Action in the House
Conference Committee, Final Action
The Voting Rights Act of 1965
Note: These remarks were originally delivered on January 28, 2005, at the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 sponsored by the University of Tennessee and the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.
The Setting. When the second session of the 89th Congress convened on Monday, January 4, 1965, the Democrats were flying high. President Lyndon Johnson had trounced Republican Barry Goldwater in the presidential election two months before, bringing along huge Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. The Republicans lost 38 seats in the House. In the Senate, which is where my story this evening takes place, the Republicans, led by Illinois Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, lost two seats. The president's party held a 68 to 32 majority.
Eager to put his personal stamp on the nation and bolstered by an ambitious, energetic majority in Congress, Johnson set out to reshape the public policy landscape in the United States. In his State of the Union Address delivered on January 4, the president established the broad theme for his efforts, "The Great Society asks not how much but how good; not only how to create wealth but how to use it; not only how fast we are going, but where we are headed. It proposes as the first test for a nation: the quality of its people." [Public Papers of the President, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, v.1, p. 4]
He then proposed a legislative agenda beginning with education and concluding with a campaign against waste and inefficiency. In his 4,500 word address, President Johnson mentioned scores of topics for federal action. But only thirty-five words were devoted to civil rights.
Johnson followed his State of the Union address with a quick succession of special messages and letters to Congress with these titles: "Advancing the Nation's Health," "Toward Full Educational Opportunity," "Immigration," "Foreign Aid," "State of the Nation's Defenses," "Need for Further Savings in the Procurement of Office Equipment for Federal Agencies," "Highways in the Nation's Capital," "Agency for Arms Control and Disarmament," "88 New Projects in the War on Poverty," "Nuclear Proliferation," "Need for Making the Highways More Attractive," and the budget. All this just in January. Nary a mention of voting rights. [Public Papers of the President, Lyndon B. Johnson, 1965, v.1, p. 1-9]
Within weeks, the approved bills began arriving at President Johnson's desk, starting with a plan to rebuild the Appalachian region economically and moving on to such proposals as medicare, federal aid to primary and secondary schools, and air- and water-pollution control, vocational rehabilitation, highway beautification, and creation of a Department of Housing.
The pace of the 1965 session was so breathless as to cause a major revision of the image, widely prevalent in preceding years, of Congress as structurally incapable of swift decision, instead prone to frustrate demands for progress. Activism had replaced lethargy.
Whither the Republicans? The Democratic legislative thrust seemed irresistible, and the role of the GOP merely superfluous. For the beleaguered Republicans, they struggled to find their voice. The disaster which befell them on Election Day in November left 69-year-old Everett Dirksen the only remaining big name Republican with a practical means of influencing public policy at the national level.
As the Minority Leader, Dirksen instinctively could not permit himself or his party to become irrelevant. He sought ways to divert and staunch the headlong Democratic legislative rush and to make himself the arbiter of the Senate's decisions where he could. He had not long to search, for abruptly and unexpectedly he would find himself again the central actor in still another legislative crisis, this one involving voting rights.
Leadership in the Senate, as in any body of professionals so intimate, so divergently motivated and so temperamental, is a subtle business. In Dirksen's case, his effectiveness derived from an instinct for self-effacement rare in one who so enjoyed the limelight. He accepted, even embraced, those gritty little debts and commitments which are every politician's burden. He possessed a deep understanding of the nuances of life in the Senate. Finally, Dirksen was willing to pay double in time, toil and responsibility for what he asked in return. He was a voracious reader and blessed with a mind which sorted, assimilated, and retained. A rare breed, Dirksen was equal parts workhorse and show horse. [Paul O'Neill, "Grand Old King of the Senate," Life, March 26, 1965]
The Republican senator from the Land of Lincoln, then serving in his third Senate term, had a long tradition of support for civil rights legislation beginning with his service in the House of Representatives in 1933. He had been instrumental in the passing of the 1957, 1960, and 1964 civil rights laws, but those represented just the tip of the iceberg - the list of the civil rights bills introduced, co-sponsored, or amended by Dirksen runs to 14 pages, single-spaced. He was no Johnny-come-lately to the issue.
When confronted by civil rights activists in 1964, Dirksen explained his approach to the business of Congress succinctly. "I am a legislator," he said, "not a moralist." Dirksen had little faith in obstructionism for the sake of obstructionism. He found such an attitude both unrealistic and self-defeating. In many cases, in his view, the minority simply abstained from participation in the great problems of the day if it took so stubborn a partisan stand. On the other had, if it offered the administration judicious support, it might not only develop a positive record but also might very well swap its votes for revisions and amendments which expressed something of the minority's view. The exercise of this philosophy gave Dirksen a powerful voice in government.
Indeed, Dirksen derived some of his power from his personal and professional relationship with Lyndon Johnson. The Senate Minority Leader had been an invaluable ally to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations on several crucial issues - the nuclear test ban treaty, tax reduction, civil rights, Vietnam, and the invasion of the Dominican Republic.
For the Democrats, however, reliance on his help became a costly habit. It endowed Dirksen with far more power than the size of the Republican minority in the Senate. The Democrats numbered 68, theoretically enough to run the Senate without any Republican help. In 1965, it took 67 votes to achieve cloture, the procedure used to end debate and force a vote on a bill. So the Democrats had enough votes on paper to bring any bill it wanted to a vote.
But the Democratic majority was subject to defection, particularly by southerners and particularly on civil rights. Any new civil rights bill would require the Democratic president to seek the Minority Leader's aid and assistance. Johnson would be forced to mull those concessions which seemed most likely to make his proposals palatable to Dirksen and his troops.
It was against this background that Dirksen offered his assessment of Johnson's State of the Union message in January 1965. Dirksen acknowledged that Americans had built a great society, but the achievements, he said, "bear no label which reads, 'Made in Washington.'" He resisted and resented what he called "the headlong plunge toward centralization of power in Washington."
Interestingly, though, the Senate Minority Leader spoke at more length about civil rights than did the president. "Those of us who do not welcome centralization of political power in the national government are particularly grieved when state courts dispense one justice for whites and another for Negroes," Dirksen remarked. "The Congress has enacted four civil rights acts since 1957. There is need to tighten these laws, especially those designed to prevent violence and intimidation of citizens who exercise their constitutional rights." After providing a few examples, Dirksen concluded with a warning to civil rights activists: "Such excesses as disorderly demonstrations, riot, looting, and violence only impede meaningful solution of problems and must be condemned by all responsible citizens." Instead, Dirksen saw the solution in a collaboration among government, business, labor, and the churches to improve schools, to train workers to enable them to hold good jobs, and to enforce the anti-discrimination laws already on the books. ["State of the Union Message," January 1965, Everett M. Dirksen Papers, Remarks and Releases]
A few days later, Dirksen laid out the legislative agenda for his constituents in a television broadcast. After explaining the trials of Vietnam, he continued with these words: "Now when it comes to the domestic scene, all seems to be beer and skittles, apple pie and honey, and yet it is not quite that sweet." As examples of the bitters, he enumerated the gold problem, Medicare, aid to education, excise taxes, farm prices and subsidies, and the public debt - not a word about voting rights. ["A New Congress Comes into Being," January 11, 1965, Everett M. Dirksen Papers, Remarks and Releases]
The point being that neither the president nor the Senate Minority Leader had voting rights on their radar in January 1965.
Selma. But, as all of you know, Congress is not the only arena where public policy issues are ventilated. No issue demonstrated that more graphically than voting rights did in 1965. Early that year, civil rights groups selected Selma, Alabama, as the focal point of their efforts to secure greater black voter registration and to dramatize the difficulty southern blacks faced in voting. Other presenters will tell this story better than I can. The lesson is this: The brutality in Selma shocked the country and Congress.
The Legislative Story Begins. In the first week of February, Johnson summoned Dirksen to the White House where they discussed the need for a new civil rights bill. On February 4, Johnson at a press conference had read a prepared statement in reaction to Selma: "I should like to say that all Americans should be indignant when one American is denied the right to vote. The loss of that right to a single citizen undermines the freedom of every citizen. That is why all of us should be concerned with the efforts of our fellow Americans to register to vote in Alabama. . . . I intend to see that the right [to vote] is secured for all our citizens." Two days later, Johnson instructed his press secretary to tell reporters that he soon planned to make "a strong recommendation" that Congress pass a voting rights bill that year. [Nick Kotz, Judgment Day: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws That Changed America (NY: Houghton-Mifflin, 2005): 267, 271]
Dirksen and Johnson made no decisions in their early meeting, but in the days ahead, the repressive measures offered by Alabama's Governor George Wallace embarrassed even the racists among southern politicians in the Senate. By the second week in February, Dirksen, Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield, and the Johnson administration became convinced that a new law would have to be enacted. This was an unexpected turn of events, for the sponsors of the 1964 act viewed it as a comprehensive bill. "We felt," Dirksen said at the time, "we had made some real honest-to-God progress last year. We felt everything would fall into its slot. We thought we were out of the civil rights woods, but we weren't."
The 1964 Civil Rights Act was intended by its proponents to take the civil rights struggle "out of the streets and into the courts." In many respects the act succeeded, but it did not in the realm of voting. In several states blacks were still denied the right to vote, either by strict requirements set by local officials, or through unfavorable court action.
In Selma, the county seat for Dallas County, for example, registration took place only two days per month. An applicant was required to fill in more than 50 blanks, write from dictation a part of the Constitution, answer four questions on the governmental process, read four passages from the Constitution and answer four questions on the passages, and sign an oath of loyalty to the United States and to Alabama.
These obstacles meant that black registration in Dallas County lagged substantially behind white registration. Figures from the 1960 census showed that Dallas County was 57.6 percent black. Its voting age population was 29,515 - 14,000 whites and 15,115 blacks. Yet when the Selma campaign began on January 18, of those 9,877 who were registered to vote, 9,542 were white and only 335 were black. Between May 1962 and August 1964, only 8.5 percent (93 of the 795) of blacks who applied to register were enrolled, while during the same period 77 percent (945 of the 1,232) of applications from whites were accepted.
On February 11, in Dirksen's office in the Capitol, at Dirksen's invitation, he met with Senator Mansfield and Nicholas Katzenbach, the new Attorney General, to consider the civil rights emergency and what to do about it. In principle, they agreed on enacting a stringent new law to guarantee the right to vote, one that would inflict severe penalties on anyone obstructing any citizen's right to vote. Dirksen was enraged at the police atrocities, as he described them, and he told his associates privately that he was prepared for "revolutionary" legislation if necessary to thwart any repetition of them. [ Neil MacNeil, Dirksen: Portrait of a Public Man (NY and Cleveland: The World Publishing Co., 1970): 252-53.
To agree to act is not to agree on what to enact, and Dirksen and Katzenbach were far from agreement on what course the federal government should take. Katzenbach favored appointing federal registrars to protect the right to vote in the South. Dirksen shrank from that idea. He wanted some alternative less inflammatory to the South than a federal inspector of their state and local election processes. Mansfield, rarely an angry man, gave his staff instructions to draft the simplest and harshest of bills, no more than one page long. "I want a bill," he told his staff, "that a man with a first-grade education, colored or white, can understand." [MacNeil, 253]
So, at the beginning of the legislative process there was agreement on the goal but disagreement on the method. Negotiations ensued. Dirksen continued to confer with Johnson, and Johnson relied on Dirksen's goodwill to fashion and enact the new law. "I feel a kinship for him," Johnson said of Dirksen privately. "We've had lots of battles, most on opposite sides of the aisle, but he always comes to the top."
Dirksen went to work with his staff and produced a draft bill that gave the federal courts, rather than agents of the executive branch, responsibility for enforcing the right to register and vote. "My real concern," Dirksen said, "is not to put anyone in jail, but to get people to vote." His proposal would not fly with the administration, however, who knew that some of the federal judges in the South could not be trusted, especially those cleared for their posts by southern senators. Dirksen gave way on that point but extracted a small but important concession in the bargain: the federal registrars would be called by the less grating title of examiners. [MacNeil, 253-54]
President Johnson Acts. With Dirksen on board, Johnson took the formal initiative and presented his proposal to Congress. On March 17, as events in Selma reached a climax, President Johnson submitted to Congress a bill which he described as intended to "strike down restrictions to voting in all elections - federal, state, and local - which have been used to deny Negroes the right to vote." Two days earlier, the President had gone before a special, televised joint session of Congress to urge swift enactment of voting rights legislation. In his words: "There is no Negro problem. There is no Southern problem. There is no Northern problem. There is only an American problem. And we are met here as Americans to solve that problem." [Public Papers, v. 1: 282]
Unlike 1964, congressional sentiment for a strong voting bill was evident from the outset of the debate. The only question was what form the bill would take.
Action in the Senate. On March 18, Dirksen and Mansfield jointly introduced to the Senate the president's bill, S 1564, the bill that had been drafted in Dirksen's office. The two were joined by 66 co-sponsors. In light of the fissure between national and southern Democrats in the Senate on civil rights, Dirksen was the key to the bill's passing in the Senate. And Dirksen did intend to act. "There has to be a real remedy. There has to be something durable and worthwhile. This cannot go on forever, this denial of the right to vote by ruses and devices and tests and whatever the mind can contrive to either make it very difficult or to make it impossible to vote." ["The Old Problem of Voting Rights," March 15, 1965, Everett M. Dirksen Papers, Remarks and Releases]
In a television show to his Illinois constituents on March 29th entitled "The Long Shadow of Abraham Lincoln," Dirksen laid out the challenge in the form of two questions: "Are people by race and color denied the right to vote and if so what shall the Congress do about it?" Using statistics developed by the Civil Rights Commission, he demonstrated the huge disparity between white and black voter registration in several southern states. In Mississippi, for example, 70 percent of voting-age whites had been registered compared to 6.7 percent of blacks. He laid the blame on the poll tax and literacy tests. He concluded by explaining and endorsing the legislation crafted in his office and submitted by the White House. ["The Long Shadow of Abraham Lincoln," March 29, 1965, Everett M. Dirksen Papers, Remarks and Releases]
According to Dirksen, "Freedom and its attributes, the right of a free citizen to vote is somehow a battle that is never quite fully won in any time or generation and so now the torch is lighted for us and the mantel falls on our shoulders to carry on where those before us left off." ["The Old Problem of Voting Rights," March 15, 1965, Everett M. Dirksen Papers, Remarks and Releases]
In the Judiciary Committee, on which Dirksen served, began the first skirmishing between the advocates of legislative action. Two issues consumed them. First, there was the poll tax imposed by many voting jurisdictions in the South to prevent blacks from voting. A group of northern Democrats believed the administration's bill did not go far enough in banning that tactic, and these folks maneuvered to add a complete ban on all poll taxes, state and local. As I'll explain later, this approach raised a constitutional issue.
The second issue came to be known as the "escape clause," a provision that would allow states which met a certain threshold to avoid the federal registration machinery altogether. The two issues soon became entangled.
On April 8, the day before the committee report was due to the full Senate, Dirksen confided to his committee colleagues that he had awakened at 5 a.m. that spring morning with the notion that southern states should be given another chance to demonstrate good faith in the matter of black voter registration. On a slip of paper he had jotted an amendment providing that any state or county that brought its registration up to 60 percent of its eligible voters could be exempt from intervention by federal examiners. It allowed states with literacy tests and low voter turnout in 1964 to exempt themselves from coverage if less than 20 percent of the population was "non-white."
On the face of it, it would seem that Dirksen was backing away from his commitment, but he insisted otherwise.
"We should not seek to create conditions that will tie the hands of States in the conduct of their elections for periods of time far beyond the time when discrimination in voting is abolished within a State. That should not be our objective," Dirksen intoned, "rather we should encourage States to cleanse themselves of past wrongs and when they do so I am willing to forgive." ["Senator Dirksen -- Explanation of Amendment to Section 4 of Voting Rights Bill," April 1965, Everett M. Dirksen Papers, Remarks and Releases]
Other members of the committee were surprised into confusion at Dirksen's escape clause. Several pro-rights members were absent when the amendment carried six to five. The Senate Judiciary Committee reported the bill with just minutes to spare before the April 9 deadline. S 1564 contained both the poll tax ban and Dirksen's escape clause. [Newsweek, April 26, 1965]
As for the Dirksen amendment, consternation ensued. Could not a state under this amendment register enough whites to get out from under it? Administration leaders feared that every southern state could except, perhaps, Mississippi and Alabama. And what was Dirksen up to? Had he, in fact, strolled through his Virginia garden and decided that the white South deserved more indulgence? Was he trying to bring off reconciliation with the southern Democrats to establish an alliance for future use? Or was he so outraged by the committee's acceptance over his objection of an anti-poll-tax provision that he was arming himself with something to trade - trade for its excision during floor debate? [Newsweek, April 26, 1965]
Dirksen's aim here was to obtain some negotiating leverage with the liberals. "When you make a trade, you've got to get a little something," he said. "Don't you know that you can bargain and swap a hat for a monkey wrench?" Dirksen, in effect, offered to swap his "escape clause" for their anti-poll tax amendment. But the liberals would not budge, so Dirksen was forced to play his next card. "If the poll tax abolition is written into this bill," he said, "I would have difficulty going to any other senator and asking him to vote for cloture. Then it would be a fielder's choice. It would be every man for himself." Thus Dirksen threatened the liberals, now led by Senator Ted Kennedy, that if they did not remove their anti-poll tax amendment from the bill, Dirksen would let the bill, as he said, "go down the drain." [MacNeil, 256]
Dirksen took to the Senate floor as debate on the voting rights bill began on April 22. He recounted at some length the nation's commitment to a government responsive to its people. "How then shall there be government by the people if some of the people cannot speak?" he asked. "How [to] obtain the consent of the governed when a segment of those governed cannot express themselves?" [Congressional Record, April 22, 1965, p. 8293]
Southern opponents argued vehemently that the measure with its flat ban on poll taxes in state and local elections was unconstitutional because it circumvented a state's right to impose its own voting criteria. They and others, including many Republicans and a few Democrats, believed that Congress lacked the authority to enact such a ban through legislation. The solution for this group was to direct the Attorney General to initiate court proceedings against the taxes rather than attack them through congressional action. Dirksen belonged to this latter group, as did Attorney General Katzenbach on behalf of the administration.
A crucial test on the poll tax ban came May 11 after Dirksen and Mansfield had succeeded in deleting the poll tax ban in what was called the "Mansfield-Dirksen substitute." By a narrow 45-49 roll-call vote, the Senate blocked a move by Sen. Kennedy to write the ban back into the bill. On May 19, the Senate adopted by a 69-20 roll call vote another Mansfield-Dirksen proposal, that the Attorney General "forthwith" seek federal court orders against the levying of discriminatory poll taxes.
In effect, Dirksen and Mansfield had substituted a judicial strategy for a legislative strategy to abolish poll taxes in order to avoid a battle over constitutional power. That strategy paid off one year later when the Supreme Court declared state and local poll taxes unconstitutional.
As the debate wore on, Senate leaders tried to limit it and bring the bill to a vote. Mansfield three times sought unanimous consent to limit debate. Each time, his motion was blocked by Sen. Allen J. Ellender (D-LA). Meanwhile, Dirksen trolled among the Senate Republicans for votes to support cloture. He discovered that many of his colleagues were unusually reluctant to vote to cut off debate. When he appealed to them, they protested disingenuously that the voting rights bill had not yet been adequately debated and considered. "We are in difficulties at the moment," he confided after a week of such private consultations. [MacNeil, 257]
Ironically, Dirksen's difficulties had almost nothing to do with the legislation itself or with the civil rights cause. Even the southern Democrats knew by this time the game was over. Many in the old southern block actually favored a strong voting rights act believing that a bigger black vote could save the Democratic South from further GOP encroachment.
No, Dirksen's problem was jealousy. The resistance to Dirksen's arguments to persuade Republicans to support cloture had a source - Senator Bourke Hickenlooper of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee and a man of considerable influence with the very Midwestern senators Dirksen now was trying to persuade. Hickenlooper was retaliating against Dirksen out of spite for the extraordinary notoriety Dirksen had achieved as the Republican leader of the Senate. In fact, Dirksen had usurped the powers generally accorded to Hickenlooper's policy committee. By sheer force of personality, Dirksen simply monopolized the Republican position on civil rights, and, by so doing, shunted the Iowan aside. Thus goaded, Hickenlooper quietly maneuvered to bring about Dirksen's defeat and humiliation on this bill. He met privately with his Republican colleagues, and with them he argued the "real evils" of this Dirksen bill. [MacNeil, 258]
All this made the White House nervous. "You can't get cloture in the Senate," one White House aide announced, "without Dirksen working like hell for it." [MacNeil, 258, quoting Larry O'Brien] The question became whether cloture could be achieved even with Dirksen working furiously for it. The struggle had changed to a personal challenge to Dirksen's leadership by the ranking member of the Republican hierarchy in the Senate. The principle battleground between Dirksen and Hickenlooper was for the votes of the conservative senators of the Middle West, men instinctively reluctant to vote for cloture and hardly susceptible to pressure from the black lobbyists working for the bill.
For Dirksen it was a grueling process. His pleas mixed in party and personal terms. "This involves more than you," Dirksen told one hesitant colleague. "It's the party. Don't drop me in the mud." He explained his motivation in an interview at the time with the Chicago Daily News:
I get letters that say to me, 'Do you think you're going to get any votes out of this?" Fancy people talking to me that way at my age. As if that concerns me a hoot. I do what I do because I think it's the right thing to do from the standpoint of the country.
And to put the moral capsheet on it, there is a little clause in the Preamble to the Constitution which says we ordain this Government in order to promote domestic tranquility. If anybody thinks it's going to be tranquil until we've had a fundamental solution for some of these problems, on which they've been demonstrating, I can only say he better get it out of his mind. [Chicago Daily News interview with Dirksen, April 19, 1965, reprinted in the Congressional Record, April 21, 1965, 8205-07]
Finally, on May 21, a petition for a cloture motion was filed. In the end, Dirksen prevailed. The cloture motion was adopted by a 70-30 roll call vote on May 25, setting the stage for passage the following day by a 77-19 roll call vote. Voting for passage was a coalition of 30 Republicans and 47 Democrats. Two Republicans joined 17 southern Democrats in opposition.
Action in the House. Next stop, the House of Representatives. I'll not detail the action in the House, which is a story unto itself. Suffice it to say, the House approved the administration bill on July 9 by a vote of 333-85. Because the House version, however, differed from the Senate's in that included the poll tax ban, the measure was sent to conference.
Conference Committee, Final Action. In conference an unusual thing occurred. Dirksen named himself to the conference committee, something out of the ordinary for him. Partly because of his presence and mostly because the administration used Martin Luther King's influence to break the deadlock, stalemate over the poll tax ban was short-lived. It was dropped from the House bill. Instead the conferees accepted the Senate version, supported by Dirksen, that the Attorney General seek court action against enforcement of state and local poll taxes. Further, the compromise included a "finding" that poll taxes were used to discriminate in some areas, and that the constitutional right to vote was "denied or abridged" by payment of the taxes as a pre-condition of voting. This language established the presumption of discrimination in places using the poll tax, signaling to the Supreme Court congressional support for a decision banning the device.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965. In many respects, the final bill was considerably more comprehensive than the original. In broad terms, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 gave the Attorney General the power to appoint federal examiners to supervise voter registration in states or voting districts where a literacy or other qualifying test was in use and where fewer than 50 percent of voting age residents were registered or had voted in 1964. The legislation brought the federal registration machinery to bear on six southern states (Al, GA, LA, MS, SC, VA), Alaska, 28 counties in North Carolina, three counties in Arizona, and one county in Idaho.
The House approved the conference report by a 328-74 vote on August 3. The Senate voted approval on August 4 by a 79-18 roll call. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on August 6 in a ceremony televised from the U.S. Capitol rotunda. The actual signing took place in a room off the Senate chamber where Abraham Lincoln had signed a bill on August 6, 1861, freeing slaves who had been pressed into service of the Confederacy.
Implementation. Seeking and receiving voluntary compliance with the Act, the Justice Department appointed federal examiners in 32 southern counties by year's end. Justice Department officials said that between the signing of the bill and close of the year, local officials had registered approximately 160,000 new black voters in the five deep southern states. Together with 79,593 blacks listed by federal examiners, black registration in these states increased by 40 percent during the first five months of enforcement.
1. Congress is capable of action, of responding effectively in times of crisis. By the same token, public pressure can create the climate for legislation. Without Selma there would have been no voting rights bill in 1965. But social action in and of itself is not sufficient.
2. Even a badly outnumbered minority can influence the legislative process and can do so without being overtly partisan or obstructionist.
3. The legislative process, admittedly an untidy process, can produce a better, stronger bill. Bargaining, negotiation, concession, compromise - these are not signs of weakness or of selling out to special interests; they are at the heart of democratic processes.
4. Words matter, as in the instruction to the Attorney General to seek "forthwith" federal court orders against the levying of discriminatory poll taxes. Or the switch from "registrars" to "examiners," a ploy that gained Republican support for cloture.
5. People matter. Everett Dirksen was uniquely suited for his role on behalf of civil rights in 1964 and 1965. Martin Luther King Jr. hailed Dirksen's "able and courageous leadership." The Chicago Defender, the largest black-owned daily in the world, praised him "for the grand manner of his generalship behind the passage of the best civil rights measures that have ever been enacted into law since Reconstruction." Just as it mattered that Lyndon Johnson not Barry Goldwater sat in the White House, it mattered that Everett McKinley Dirksen not Bourke Hickenlooper led the Republicans.