Sit down and shut up

February 22, 2017 GMT

If you watched the recent kerfuffle -- and thanks to Mitch McConnell, we all did -- when the Senate told one of its own, Elizabeth Warren, to sit down and shut up, you probably felt one of two ways: That Elizabeth Warren should sit down and shut up. Or, that Elizabeth Warren had every right to read into record a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King questioning the fitness of Jeff Sessions of Alabama to be named a district court federal judge. And, what’s more, you believed a male senator in the same situation would never have been put into time out and silenced by an arcane rule. Regardless of which side of the Great Political Divide you find yourself, those reactions are natural. Not much neutral ground these days, especially on matters concerning uppity women. (Remember Barbara Jordan? This bunch would have escorted her off the floor under armed guard. A woman both black and so righteously bold would never fly.) But how did Elizabeth Warren feel? When she was stripped of her turn to protest in a routine way, did it shock her? Did it silence her? No, and no. My guess is she was surprised at the stupidity but not shocked at its source. She probably even wonders why Mitch McConnell forgot to address her as “Sweetie.” The episode might have made her a bigger force than she already was. This isn’t Elizabeth’s first spelling bee. A champion of the middle class, she has been told many times to sit down and shush. Only she never does. What could have been a late-night nothing moment in the cabinet confirmation process became the hot topic for a news cycle. It reinforced the belief that if you have a president who brags about grabbing women by their privates, his lieutenants aren’t going to sit on the sidelines smoking Virginia Slims and reading Ms. Magazine. The daughter of an Oklahoma maintenance man and a Sears switchboard operator, Warren grew up in tough circumstances. Her memoir, “A Fighting Chance,” tells about the family car being repossessed after her father’s illness, about her mother going to work at age 50 to rescue their house. Elizabeth Warren wasn’t handed a family fortune, but instead figured out a way to get a college debate scholarship. Later she would attend law school while a young wife and new mother. Warren would become a Harvard Law School professor, an expert on economics, the nemesis of corrupt bankers, an author and the creative force behind the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Not only was that agency her brainchild, she helped set it up. The agency in its first two years recovered nearly $500 million that banks fraudulently charged customers. But when it came time to choose the agency’s first director, Republicans in Congress made it clear to President Barack Obama that appointing Warren director was a deal-breaker. Sit down and shut up. Somebody else got the job. So she ran for the Senate. Her story is not one of privilege, penthouses and petty grudges. She doesn’t call her political opponents names. She doesn’t ridicule others. She doesn’t constantly Tweet or tremble or talk trash. Keep telling this “little lady,” this “Pocahontas,” this “nasty woman” that she’s been warned and to sit down and shut up and see what happens. I put my money on Elizabeth Warren to resist, persist and perhaps become president one day. Rheta Grimsley Johnson’s most recent book is “Hank Hung the Moon ... And Warmed Our Cold, Cold Hearts.” Comments are welcomed at rhetagrimsley@aol.com.