After he delivered his memorable speech last week on racism, discrimination and voting rights – which culminated with a call for a “right to vote” amendment to the U.S. Constitution – I asked Rep. Jim Cooper what had gotten into him. After all, Cooper is known foremost as the Blue Dog budget hawk, and his public speeches typically follow that cue. But at the Nashville Bar Association’s “Law Day” luncheon, he showed a new passion. “They asked for a real speech,” Cooper told reporters. “It takes time to do this. Even this slimmed down version has 46 footnotes.” Thanks to his congressional staff, I recently obtained a full transcript of the speech, which he called “The 28th Amendment.” It is worth a read. You can find it here.
Some notable moments, a few of which I reported in last week’s story.
* Cooper raised many eyebrows in the crowd when he uttered eight epithets, including the n-word, as he made a point on hate slang and protection:
“These are accidents of birth or aspects of ourselves that we cannot, or should not be forced to, change. As civilization advances, the list of protections grows,” Cooper said before reading off the epithets, which found some disapproval among at least a few attorneys in the crowd. Others appreciated the candor.
* Cooper called his father, former Tennessee Gov. Prentice Cooper, a racist for supporting segregation:
“My father was racist. Of course, he did not think of himself that way—no respectable person does. In his day, the Ku Klux Klan was racist. My father was an attorney who never considered wearing a white hood. My dad could not be racist because, just like Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, he had defended a black man accused of raping a white woman. During the 1934 trial in Shelbyville, a lynch mob formed, defeated the Tennessee National Guard, killed two bystanders and burned the courthouse to the ground. My father barely escaped with his life.
Nevertheless, my father remained a son of the South. He supported segregation and poll taxes. He opposed busing and intermarriage. In short, he was just like most of your parents and grandparents. That’s why they elected him governor of Tennessee three times.”