Tuesday, July 25, 2017

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John McCain has a choice that will affect the way this chapter of his career is noted and his career as a whole. As he makes this decision, he should consider Senator Clair Engle.
In 1963, when Sen. Engle was 51 years old, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and underwent surgery. Within six months, he was partially paralyzed and unable to speak. Within a year of his diagnosis, in the summer of 1964, he was dead, at age 52.
But in those final few months, Clair Engle chose to do something remarkable—in fact the main thing for which he is now known.

Soon after John Kennedy’s assassination and also the Birmingham Church bombing that gave new urgency to Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership of the civil-rights movement, the Congress was considering what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Senators led by then-Democrat Strom Thurmond were filibustering the bill. In those days, filibusters were real, with senators orating for hours on the floor, and it took a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators, to break them.

By the time of the crucial cloture vote on June 10, 1964, Clair Engle was too sick to stand or speak, and he was in his final weeks of life. But he was brought to the Senate floor, and when the clerk read his name, “Mr. Engle—Yay or Nay,” to see whether he would vote in favor of cloture, Clair Engle lifted his hand toward his eye, signaling an “Aye” vote. He voted to end the filibuster and enact the historic civil-rights bill.

As with John McCain’s “decent family man” comment, this was one inch away from dramatic perfection.

It turned out that Clair Engle did not “need” to come to the floor to cast that vote (although Engle may not have known that beforehand). Seventy-one senators supported an end to Strom Thurmond’s filibuster, so the bipartisan non-Southern bloc supporting the bill could have done without him.

But Senator Clair Engle, although he could not stand, wanted to take a stand, and did. And if he is remembered, this will be the reason why. Thanks to Wendy Garcia.

What John McCain Can Learn From Clair Engle
Half a century ago, a senator battling a brain tumor took to the Senate floor, and secured his legacy.

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