Before "This Week" Sunday, we asked our roundtable participants to tell us what they are looking forward to discussing. Here are their pre-show thoughts.
|Cokie Roberts: Shame on the Republicans|
The day after I turned 21, on December 28, 1964, I went to register to vote in my hometown of New Orleans. (The franchise had not yet been extended to 18 year olds; it took the Vietnam wartime draft to do that.) I knew I would have to take a literacy test, but that didn't worry me, especially since the previous June I had graduated with a degree in political science from one of the country's prestigious colleges. But it turned out that I was wrong to take this qualifier for voting so casually. It was a trick test. The answers to the multiple choice questions were so ambiguous that election judges could just as easily declare one choice correct as another. Not surprisingly, passing depended not on the correctness of your answers but on the color of your skin.
As a result, fewer than 2 percent of blacks were registered to vote in some parts of the state. In a parish (county) south of New Orleans only about 100 African Americans could vote out of a population of around 3000. Those were statistics my father pointed to several months later in a dramatic speech on the floor of the House of Representatives. "I wish I could stand here as a man who loves my state," he boomed in his bass voice, "and say there has been no discrimination…but unfortunately it is not so." The House chamber fell silent in shock. Hale Boggs, representing the Deep South city of New Orleans, was making a major speech on behalf of a civil rights bill!
Then the majority whip of the House, my father knew that his support for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 could spell the end of his rising political career. But he was going to vote for it anyway, he told the family the night before the July 9 debate, because he believed that citizens who could vote could secure their own rights. But he also made clear, to our chagrin, that he would not add to his political peril by speaking for the bill as well. When debate began and he heard another Louisiana congressman insist that blacks faced no discrimination when it came to voting -- after all that test I took was given to all prospective voters, not just African Americans -- my father could no longer sit in silence. His stunned colleagues rose in enthusiastic applause as he concluded, "I shall support this bill because I believe the fundamental right to vote must be a part of this great experiment in human progress under freedom which is America."
When the House passed the bill by an enormous margin, the crusty chairman of the Judiciary Committee, New York's Emanuel Celler, declared Boggs's speech "will go ringing through the ages." And so it did, until now. Laws placing restrictions on voting now give those mighty words a hollow ring. "Progress under freedom" meant the continual expansion of the franchise -- first to non-property holders, then to former slaves, then to women, then to eighteen year olds. But now, in a blatantly cynical move to suppress minority voting, Republican state legislatures are making it harder to vote by requiring specific forms of identification, or eliminating early voting or both.
Obtaining the state sanctioned identification documents can cost money as well as time and difficulty so Attorney General Eric Holder has dubbed these laws a modern form of a poll tax. He is exactly right. And that is what the 1965 law, with its overwhelming Republican support, explicitly outlawed. Democrats in southern states had used subterfuges like poll taxes and literacy tests to suppress black votes. What a sad moment in political history that now it is Republicans trying to make it harder for Hispanics and African Americans and young people to exercise that fundamental right and duty as a citizen. Shame on them.
|Joe Klein: Syria as 'The Godfather'|
Before I interviewed Bashar Assad in Damascus six years ago, I asked several U.S. intelligence officials what they'd most like to know about the guy. One said, "Well, what we'd really like to know is: Is he Michael or Fredo?"
I spent two hours with Assad and, to tell the truth, it was hard to know which Corleone he most resembled. He didn't have Michael's toughness, but he certainly was a lot smarter than Fredo.
As it happened, the Corleone family analogy was popular among some of the intelligence agencies in the region. "We think Bushra and her husband are Michael," an Israeli intelligence expert said, referring to Assad's sister and Asef Shawkat, who was in charge of Syria's security services.
And so it is entirely possible that the Assad family was decapitated this week when Shawkat was killed in the Damascus explosion that also killed Syria's Defense Minister. Shawkat was the enforcer, the member of the family with the closest ties to Hezbollah (and therefore, to Iran). He was the family member most likely to unleash Syria's chemical arsenal on the rebels.
I suspect that with Shawkat gone, the remaining Assads are thinking about finding a way to escape with their lives and, of course, their fortunes. In any case, it's now inevitable that the Assad regime is quickly coming to an end.
Joe Klein is a TIME Magazine political columnist.