TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 1, 2022
In the summer of 67, undisguised Otherization: Back in August 2019, Dawn Biehler helped the world remember an undisguised, deeply stupid incident from The Summer of 67.
Personally, we've always recalled the incident. It happened in July of that year. We were entering our junior year of college. We were 19 years old at the time—19 and a half.
Young and naive as we were at the time, we recall being shocked by what we saw several congressmen say, right there on the floor of the House, during a thoughtful debate. The dismaying remarks of these congressmen were widely discussed in real time.
We're fairly sure that we saw footage of their conduct on the evening news. That said, did such footage, from inside the House, even exist at that time, long before C-Span and cable TV itself?
We aren't entirely sure. But we do remember how shocked we were by the things the congressmen said.
In August 2019, Professor Biehler (UMBC) recalled the incident in this essay for the Baltimore Sun. As best we can tell, she seems to have made some factual errors, but she captured the essence of this dismaying, deeply stupid, highly instructive incident:
BIEHLER (8/5/19): In the summer of 1967, President Lyndon Johnson asked Congress for $40 million to support rat control in communities engaged with his Model Cities program. Model Cities and the Rat Extermination Act were part of Johnson’s agenda to invest in black neighborhoods long deprived of resources for housing, infrastructure and economic development by segregationist policies.
Black leaders like Whitney Young and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. urged a multi-billion dollar program of urban redevelopment, but Congress even refused many of Johnson’s more modest requests. The Rat Extermination Act was one small example of this: When it came up for debate, Congressmen from rural districts laughed it off the floor. Rep. James Broyhill of North Carolina drawled, “the rat smart thing to do is to vote down this civil rats bill, rat now.”
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Oh boy, that was good!
At the time, we were shocked by this conduct. The incident has always stuck in our mind, especially the wonderfully comical part about the way defeating the bill was "the rat smart thing to do."
Today, experts describe this incident as an LAO—as a classic instance of Loathing and Otherization. According to scholars, Otherization has always been practiced by the various groups comprising our flawed "human race."
On that unfortunate day in 1967, some House members stood to say that children getting bitten by rats was no laughing matter. That said, the joking went on and on and on. As the Congressional Record makes clear, it went on at considerable length.
Just for the record, Professor Biehler seems to have misstated some facts. In a certain type of way, these apparent errors may also be a bit instructive. The apparent errors are these:
Based upon the (official) Congressional Record—and based upon earlier published accounts of this incident—it was Rep. Joel Broyhill (R-Virginia), not his distant cousin Rep. James Broyhill (R-North Carolina), who delivered the wonderful puns Biehler recalled in her essay.
(Based upon the aforementioned sources, we see no sign that Rep. James Broyhill was involved in this gong-show at all.)
Nor is it clear that Rep. Broyhill referred to "this civil rats bill" in the course of his undisguised mockery. Prior to Biehler's essay, that doesn't seem to be the way Broyhill's remarks had been recorded, including in the Congressional Record itself.
Four years after the 1967 incident, former president Lyndon Johnson recalled this incident as part of a very long essay he published in the New York Times. Johnson referred to this instance of undisguised Otherization as "a day of shame and defeat." That said, he quoted Broyhill as shown:
FORMER PRESIDENT JOHNSON (10/19/71): July 20, 1967, was another day when conservatives mounted an attack, this time a day of shame and defeat. On that day a simple, uncomplicated bill came before the House of Representatives which proposed to provide Federal grants to local neighborhoods for developing and carrying out rat control and extermination efforts. I had recommended this important project in my message that year on urban and rural poverty, and I had deliberately separated it from the rest of my program in the hope of making more fortunate American people aware of the terrible problem of rats in our urban ghettos.
Everything seemed in order for quick and easy passage of the bill. But something happened in the House that afternoon, something shameful and sad. A handful of Republicans joined together not merely to defeat the bill but to try to make low comedy of the entire program. Congressman Joel Broyhill, a Republican from Virginia, helped set the tone: “Mr. Speaker, I think the ‘rat smart thing’ for us to do is to vote down this rat bill rat now.”
The floodgates opened. The House, as it is prone to do on occasion, had a field day—laughing about high commissioners of rats, hordes of rat bureaucrats and enormous demands for rat patronage; jesting about the new civil “rats” bill, “throwing money down a rathole,” and “discriminating between city and country rats.” At the end of this burlesque the rat bill was defeated by a vote of 207 to 176. The old Republican‐conservative Democratic coalition had won again.
The Congressional Record doesn't show Broyhill—and yes, that seems to have been Joel Broyhill—referring to "this civil rats bill" in the mocking statement which triggered this "burlesque." It's possible that he actually did, but his remarks weren't recorded that way in the official record, and we haven't found an instance in which his remarks were transcribed that way until Biehler did so in her essay.
(We haven't been able to find video of this sad event.)
At any rate, we've always remembered being shocked by what Broyhill said that day, and by the way other House members joined in the mockery and the good solid group fun.
Members seemed to be showing outright contempt for one part of what Dr. King would have called the beloved community—and the undisguised stupidification went on at considerable length.
We recall being deeply surprised by what we saw that day (or that night, on the evening news). According to the congressional record, this was the fuller text of Broyhill's initial jest:
BROYHILL of Virginia. Mr. Speaker, the gentleman made a very clear statement on how this rat bill discriminates against a lot of rats in this country. The committee report also shows that the bill discriminates against 97% percent of the rats.
But I think the most profound statement the gentleman made is the fact that it does set up a new bureau and sets up possibly a commissioner on rats or an administrator of rats and a bunch of new bureaucrats on rats. There is no question but that there will be a great demand for a lot of rat patronage. I think by the time we get through taking care of all of the bureaucrats in this new rat bureau along with the waste and empire building, none of the $40 million will be left to take care of the 2% percent of the rats who were supposed to be covered in the bill.
Mr. Speaker, I think the "rat smart thing" for us to do is to vote down this rat bill "rat now."
That's exactly the way the speech was transcribed by the Congressional Record. Through his intonation, Broyhill may have made a further play on the twinned words "bureaucrats and rats," but we can't be sure about that.
As the Congressional Record shows, the jesting went on at substantial length. The aptly named Rep. Gross (R-Iowa) offered witty distinctions between "two-legged rats" and rats "of the four-legged variety" on his way to such probing queries as this:
Mr. GROSS. On the matter of rat bites, it would be interesting to know how many children are bitten by squirrels that they feed and try to handle. On the basis of that, does anyone suggest a program to exterminate squirrels?
A bit later, Rep. Grover (R-New York) announced the record of animal bites recorded in his suburban district on Long Island. This two-legged public servant had done his background work:
Mr. GROVER. Mr. Speaker, I have requested information on annual bites from the health department in Nassau County, N.Y., a part of which county I represent.
The following bites are documented and I list them for the interest of the opponents and proponents of the legislation before us.Dogs: 5,779
Gerbils (desert rodent): 5
Guinea pig: 4
There were no wild rat bites and 16 bites by experiment-test rats.
In 1963 there was noted one llama bite.
Assuming that any of that was accurate, chinchilla bites were a bigger problem than (wild) rat bites in the Nassau County of that day. For what it's worth, Nassau County's population was less than 5% black at that time.
At any rate, wonderful humor had been offered by a skilled group of pun-loving congressmen on this particular day. President Johnson's rather modest proposal was voted down at the end of their "debate," but as he later explained in his New York Times essay, less humorous voices eventually prevailed:
FORMER PRESIDENT JOHNSON (continuing directly from above): When I heard the description of this sorry spectacle, I felt outraged and ashamed. I was ashamed of myself for not having prepared the House of Representatives and the nation to approach this issue more intelligently and with a proper sense of urgency. I tried to remedy the situation by issuing a statement immediately: “The effect of today's House action in denying a rule to the Rat Extermination Act is a cruel blow to the children of America.” I kept at it on succeeding days. The bill became a personal challenge. I was determined not to compound my error by failing to help build public sentiment.
On Sept. 20 the House reconsidered its action. With the heat of public indignation upon them, the Republicans had stopped laughing. By a 44‐vote margin the House voted to add a rat control amendment to our Partnership for Health bill.
Four years later, Johnson was still discussing "the sorry spectacle" which took place that day. We recall having been shocked by that sorry spectacle too. It had been an undisguised act of Loathing and Otherization, rather plainly directed at those regarded as Lessers.
We're puzzled by the lengthy essay Johnson wrote in the Times that day. It consumed a full page in the Times on the day on which it appeared, and the print seemed to be rather small. It ran beneath this banner headline:
By Lyndon B. Johnson: War on Poverty and the 1964 Campaign
We're not sure what the overall motivation was for this lengthy essay. But at one point, Johnson called attention, a bit tangentially, to another type of Otherization which prevails rather widely within the beloved community, or at least is perceived to do so.
In a later part of his essay, Johnson discussed his initial reluctance to run for his own term as president in 1964. As he did, he called attention to another ingrained tendency toward Loathing and Otherization which is at least perceived to exist within the national community:
FORMER PRESIDENT JOHNSON: The burden of national unity rests heaviest on one man, the President. And I did not believe, any more than I ever had, that the nation would unite indefinitely behind any Southerner. One reason the country could not rally behind a Southern President, I was convinced, was that the metropolitan press of the Eastern seaboard would never permit it. My experience in office had confirmed this reaction. I was not thinking just of the derisive articles about my style, my clothes, my manner, my accent, and my family—although I admit I received enough of that kind of treatment in my first few months as President to last a lifetime. I was also thinking of a more deep‐seated and far‐reaching attitude—a disdain for the South that seems to be woven into the fabric of Northern experience. This is a subject that deserves a more profound exploration than I can give it here—a subject that has never been sufficiently examined.
I expressed this feeling to James Reston of The New York Times in the spring of 1964. Scotty Reston disagreed with me, and a few days later he asked James Rowe to persuade me I was wrong. Jim wrote to me expressing his belief that as long as Reston and Walter Lippmann supported me, I would “get a good press” from the rest of the Washington news corps, who represent newspapers all over the country. But it was not long before those two reporters ceased to support me and began their tireless assaults on me and my Administration. When that happened, I could not help noting that it was hard to find many words of support anywhere in the Washington press corps or television media.
In the second part of that passage, Johnson conveys his impression of a highly-scripted elite press corps—a press corps in which everyone agrees to say the same things, politely following the cues of established and potent guild leaders.
More strikingly for present purposes, Johnson also refers to a "far-reaching and deep-seated disdain" directed at those who live in the South—directed at the style, clothing, manner and accent of such obvious Lessers.
Johnson said he'd already experienced so much disdain of that type that he was initially disinclined to run for president in 1964. We don't know if that's actually true—and it's too early to call Robert Caro—but we can't swear that it isn't.
Rep. Broyhill and his colleagues engaged in acts of open disdain that day—in an undisguised act of Otherization. Our liberal tribe often behaves in a similar way—and yes, this Otherization costs us votes, and harms the interests of the successors to the kids who had been receiving those rat bites.
Professor Biehler may have misquoted Rep. Broyhill in her 2019 essay (or possibly not). That said, we'll close for today with a note about Professor Biehler herself.
She specializes in the kinds of real-life problems and concerns which afflict the actual children of this nation's urban communities. For that reason, you will never see Professor Biehler on our favorite "cable news" TV shows.
She will never appear on Rachel Maddow's TV show. She'll never appear with Anderson Cooper. They and other such cable stars are too busy speaking to themselves, and to and about each other.
They speculate about the people they dream of getting locked up. They talk about little else, and they certainly don't talk about lower-income urban children. Readers, use your heads!
If we might borrow from the later Wittgenstein, undisguised acts of Otherization are "as much a part of our natural history as walking, eating, drinking, playing." Our study of this unfortunate impulse continues tomorrow.
Tomorrow: The Lessers of Bumfuck County