Sunday, July 19, 2009

Now that's how you run a caucus...

This story about Sam Rayburn, the powerful chairman House Interstate Commerce Committee and later Speaker during the FDR administration is too good not to share:

He would never ask a man to do anything against his own interests. "A Congressman's first duty is to get re-elected," he would say, and he would advise young Congressmen: "Always vote your district." If a Congressman said that a vote Rayburn was asking for would hurt him in his district, Rayburn would always accept that excuse. But Rayburn knew the districts. And if the excuse wasn't true, Rayburn's rage would rise. Once, for example, it erupted against a Congressman from a liberal district who took orders from the district's reactionary business interests only because he didn't want to offend them. The Congressman had often used the excuse of public opinion in his district, and, because Rayburn had never challenged him on it, and had stopped asking for his support, was under the misapprehension that that Rayburn believed that excuse. One evening, however, after the Congressman had voted against a bill Rayburn supported, he approached Rayburn, who was standing with a group of friends, and with a winning smile said he sure wished he could have voted with him, but that such a vote would have hurt him in his district. Rayburn did not reply for a long moment, while the deep red flush stated to creep up his head. Then, says one of the men who were standing with Rayburn, in a recollection confirmed by another, Rayburn said:

"Now, I never asked for your vote on this bill. I never said a word to you about this bill. I knew you wouldn't vote for this bill, and I never said a word to you about it. But you come across the room just now and told me you wish you could have voted with me."

"So I'm going to tell you something now. You could have voted with me. I've known that district since before you were born, and that vote wouldn't have hurt you one bit. Not one bit. You didn't vote with me because you didn't have the guts to."

The flush on the huge head was so dark now that it looked almost black. The men standing with Rayburn backed away. "So don't you come crawling across this room telling me you wish you could have voted for the bill. 'Cause it's a damn lie. It's a damn lie. And you're a damn liar. You didn't vote for the bill 'cause you didn't have the guts to. You've got no guts. So let me tell you something. The time is coming when the people are going to find out that all you represent is the Chamber of Commerce, and when they find that out, they're going to beat your ass."

A young state legislator who had considered challenging the Congressman for his seat had dropped the idea because he didn't have enough political clout. Not a week after his confrontation with Rayburn, the Congressman walked into the House Dining Room for lunch and saw the legislator sitting there - at Rayburn's table. When the legislator returned home, he had all the clout he needed, and the Congressman's political career was over. Rayburn drove him not only out of Congress, but out of Washington. He tried to stay on in the capital, looking for a government job or a lobbying job, but no job was open to him. And none would ever be - not as long as Sam Rayburn was alive.
"The Path To Power", Robert A. Caro, pp. 329-330

1 comment:

jdb said...

Can we have Zombie Sam Rayburn as the Senate Majority Leader?