Congress Votes To Kick Confederate Statues Out of the Capitol
Plus: Fast approval of Alzheimer's drug draws scrutiny, the value of disagreement, and more...
The debate over ditching statues of racists rages on. U.S. lawmakers are currently considering whether to cancel congressional artwork featuring Confederate leaders and other historical figures who defended slavery. On Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted that they should go.
"Symbols of slavery, segregation, and sedition are not welcome in the halls of Congress," bill sponsor and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D–Md.) said. "Individuals who worked to enshrine or perpetuate the bondage of African Americans, or prevent them from achieving full and equal rights, are not worthy of being honored in our country."
In a 285-120 vote, a bipartisan roster of legislators approved getting rid of various monuments and artwork now residing in the Capitol building.
All of the votes against the bill came from Republicans. However, 67 members of the GOP joined with Democrats in approving the measure.
At issue are several works in the National Statuary Hall Collection within the Capitol building. Specifically, the legislation calls for replacing a bust of former Chief Justice Roger Taney—who authored the 1857 Dred Scott ruling declaring that black Americans were not citizens and Congress didn't have the right to stop slavery in U.S. territories—with a bust of former Associate Justice Thurgood Marshal.
Statues of former Arkansas Gov. Charles Brantley Aycock, former Vice President John Caldwell Calhoun, and former senator and North Carolina Gov. James Paul Clarke would also be removed.
In addition, the bill would order the removal of "all statues of individuals who voluntarily served the Confederate States of America from display in the United States Capitol." Within 45 days of passage, "all Confederate statues and Confederate busts" must be removed "from any area of the United States Capitol which is accessible to the public," it says.
As it stands, works can only be removed from this collection if the state who gifted it approves the removal. The new measure would amend that rule, by inserting the bold text below into the current statute:
And the President is authorized to invite all the States to provide and furnish statues, in marble or bronze, not exceeding two in number for each State, of deceased persons who have been citizens thereof, and illustrious for their historic renown or for distinguished civic or military services (other than persons who served voluntarily in the military forces or government of the Confederate States of America or in the military forces or government of a State while the State was in rebellion against the United States), such as each State may deem to be worthy of this national commemoration; and when so furnished, the same shall be placed in the old hall of the House of Representatives, in the Capitol of the United States, which is set apart, or so much thereof as may be necessary, as a national statuary hall for the purpose herein indicated.
So far, Arkansas and North Carolina have been good sports about removal, already agreeing to the replacement of their contested contributions. Arkansas approved the removal of a statue of Aycock, and North Carolina agreed to the removal of a statue of Clarke. "But the current statues remain in the Capitol until the new ones are finished," notes The Hill.
Florida is also game, having agreed to replace a statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with a statue of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Last year, Virginia agreed to replace a Robert E. Lee statue with one of civil rights activist Barbara Johns.
But other states have no current plans for replacement, leaving in place statues of Taney, Calhoun (gifted by South Carolina), Confederacy President Jefferson Davis (a statue from Mississippi), Confederacy Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens (from Georgia), and Confederate military officer and politician Wade Hampton (also from South Carolina).
Perhaps not quite comfortable arguing for the continued presence of folks like Davis and Taney in the halls of Congress, some Republicans relied on culture war and slippery slope arguments to speak against the bill. "Unfortunately, Democrats, animated by the Critical Race Theory concepts of structural racism, microaggressions, and a United States based solely on white supremacy, have chosen to remove statues that underscore the failures of our pre-1861 Constitution," said Rep. Matt Rosendale (R–Mont.). "Make no mistake, those who won the West and George Washington are next."
Whether the bill will go anywhere from here is unclear. Similar legislation passed by the House last year stalled in the senate.
In a democracy, not everyone has to agree. At The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum tackles the strange new idea that mere exposure to opposing ideas and theories is a bad thing. A sample:
A few months ago I interviewed Charles Mills, a philosopher whose most famous book, The Racial Contract, published in 1997, offers an alternative reading (you could call it a critical race theorists' reading) of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant—the Enlightenment thinkers who, anticipating liberal democracy, all argued (to put it crudely) that a legitimate government must have the consent of the governed. Mills pointed out that all of them left Black and other nonwhite people outside of the social contract, and he sketched out the consequences. I asked him whether this meant we should no longer read Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Kant. He told me that, on the contrary, the last class he taught was about those philosophers and their modern critics, including himself: "To me, it's a much more fruitful way of carrying on the tradition than saying, 'These guys are racist and sexist. Therefore, stop teaching them.'"
Mills told me that not all of his colleagues understand him. "They say, 'Why are you trying to keep this tradition alive? We should jettison this whole way of doing political philosophy and basically start anew.'" But he disagrees. "There is a dynamism inside liberalism that they miss," he told me. The huge advantage of liberal democracy over other political systems is that its leadership constantly adjusts and changes, shifting to absorb new people and ideas. Liberal democracies don't try, as Soviet Marxism once did, to make everybody agree about everything, all the time.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration moved quickly for a change. Cue the Congressional investigators. Two House committees are investigating the FDA's approval of aducanumab, a new drug said to treat Alzheimer's disease. The medication—made by pharmaceutical company Biogen and sold as Aduhelm—got the green light earlier this month under the FDA's accelerated approval program.
One sticking point for legislators' is the drug's price tag: $56,000 for a yearly course of treatment. But a steep price tag hardly seems like a reason to keep a useful drug from everyone.
"We have serious concerns about the steep price of Biogen's new Alzheimer's drug Aduhelm," said Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Frank Pallone Jr. in a statement last Friday.
"We strongly support innovative treatments to help the millions of Americans who suffer from Alzheimer's disease, but Aduhelm's approval and its $56,000 annual price tag will have broader implications for seniors, providers, and taxpayers that warrant close examination," they continued.
More relevant is evidence that the drug may not actually be that useful, and could be linked to serious side effects. From CNN:
The FDA's Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee concluded last year that there was not enough evidence to support the effectiveness of the drug—and thus clinical data did not support approving the treatment.
Dr. Aaron Kesselheim, a Harvard Medical School professor and Brigham and Women's Hospital physician who resigned from the advisory committee after the approval of aducanumab, said last week that "the drug showed no good evidence that it worked."
Kesselheim, who was one of three committee members to resign, called the approval "the worst drug approval in US history" in his resignation letter.
"It had important side effects," Kesselheim said on CBS's This Morning; the drug is linked to brain swelling and bleeding that can be seen in MRI scans, as well as headache, falls, diarrhea, confusion, delirium and disorientation.
Most FDA reviewers recommended approval of the drug.
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