There is no position in the United States government called “Secretary of Next.” The Founding Fathers had little or no use for the word “next.” The Constitution they created is a real time manual delegating and explaining powers for those in office. It doesn’t instruct officeholders to not use a power until a successor, the next one, is sworn in.
At no point during his White House bid has Sen. Ted Cruz said that he wants to be president so that he can suspend executive powers and responsibilities until he’s succeeded by the next president. Yet that’s what he’s asking of President Barack Obama in the wake of this weekend’s death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The sad and stunning news hadn’t been out long before Cruz tweeted, “Justice Scalia was an American hero. We owe it to him, the Nation, for the Senate to ensure that the next President names his replacement.”
A man who may never serve one day as president is saying that a twice-elected president, with 11 months still to serve, not even bother making one of the most enduring of presidential decisions, that Obama not fulfill a constitutional responsibility but cede it to whoever is next, preferably, one Rafael Edward “Ted” Cruz out of Houston.
Cruz’s voice is one of the loudest and most unavoidable during this election season. The cacophony of voices from all sides makes me long for the voice of another politician from Houston: Barbara Jordan. This column was to have been solely devoted to her before the death of one of our most consequential jurists and politics intervened.
February 21, 2016 would have been the 80th birthday of this transcendent stateswoman and scholar. This year is the 50th anniversary of her election as the first black state senator in Texas; the 40th anniversary of her becoming the first black woman to keynote the Democratic National Convention; and the 20th anniversary of her death at the age of 59.
In 1972, she became the first woman and first black person elected to Congress from Texas. Illness would limit her to just three terms, but she delivered unforgettable moments.
During the Watergate hearings in the summer of 1974, Jordan first caught the nation’s ear when she said, “My faith in the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction of the United States Constitution.”
On the summer night she stood at the podium at the DNC in Madison Square Garden and acknowledged her historic presence by saying, “There is something special about tonight. What is different? What is special? I, Barbara Jordan, am a keynote speaker.”
It was an incredible voice for which thunder got out of its path, a voice rolled richly with the wisdom of Mother Earth and the cadences of 300 years of black Baptist preaching.
Jordan’s voice, formidable presence, expansive intellect, unwavering integrity and inclusive vision of a national community made her one of the most admired American political and moral leaders of the 20th century.
Throughout her life she was a liberal whose liberalism was unapologetic but not dogmatic, and she would upset liberals and black people with some of her positions.
When she left Congress, she became a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, where she shaped the minds and values of future public officials.
But among the many lessons Jordan can still teach is that in the battle of ideas and the bolstering of ideals, there are no more effective weapons than the marshaling of words in an honest and distinctive voice.
She said this in her 1976 keynote: “A spirit of harmony can only survive if each of us remembers, when bitterness and self-interest seem to prevail, that we share a common destiny.”