When the 1% were plotting to overthrow the Roman republic, the great democratic orator Cicero gave a series of speeches in the Roman Senate, exposing the conspiracy. These speeches came to be known as the “Catilinarians” or the “Catiline Orations,” after the principal target of the speeches, Lucius Sergius Catilina. For two thousand years, these speeches have been pored over by students of Latin and rhetoric as a canonical example of Roman oratory.
One of Cicero’s rhetorical techniques that made a big impression on my high school Latin class was “praeteritio,” or “I will pass over.” The orator mentions “in passing” some really damning thing done by the accused. “Quod ego praetermitto,” or “which [crime] I will pass over.” By such “passing over” of the crime, the speaker calls attention to the crime.
I had the opportunity to interact at some length with Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson not so long ago. I’m going to hazard a guess that at some point in his life, Representative Johnson had the opportunity to study Cicero.
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Here’s Representative Johnson, talking about the opposition of members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) to the planned speech of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to Congress:
“It’s not just about disrespect for the president, it’s disrespect for the American people and our system of government for a foreign leader to insert himself into a issue that our policymakers are grappling with,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.). “It’s not simply about President Obama being a black man disrespected by a foreign leader. It’s deeper than that.” (My emphasis.)
Do you catch that? It’s not just about Netanyahu disrespecting the President of the United States. It’s not simply about Netanyahu disrespecting a black man. It’s about Netanyahu disrespecting the US people and our system of government.
The audience for Netanyahu’s proposed speech to Congress on March 3 is shaping up to be largely Republican – and almost completely white, Politico says.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (NC) – head of the Congressional Black Caucus;
Rep. James Clyburn (SC) – #3 Democrat in the House;
Rep. John Lewis (GA) – yes, that John Lewis;
Rep. Keith Ellison (MN), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus;
Rep. Hank Johnson (GA);
Rep. Barbara Lee (CA);
Rep. Donna Edwards (MD);
Rep. Gregory Meeks (NY);
Rep. Charles Rangel (NY);
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX);
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC)
By my count, more than two-thirds of the House Democrats who have announced so far that they will not attend the speech if it is not cancelled are Members of the CBC.
To the people who could still cancel Netanyahu’s speech, I want to say: really? Is this really how you want to fight with us? Is this really the terrain you want to fight us on? There is still time for you to listen to Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the largest denomination of Jews in the United States, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, Isaac Herzog, head of the Israeli Labor Party, 25,000 people at MoveOn, and 1000 phone calls to the House in support of the Ellison-Cohen-Waters letter, urging that the speech be cancelled.