Thursday, December 14, 2006

I don't know what's happened to Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota -- I hope he makes a full recovery. (There have been strokes in my family -- my uncle had one when he was barely older than I am now. He recovered, however, more or less, with a limp and a stiff, bent arm, but his mind and speech were unaffected and he lived a fairly normal life for two more decades.)

But Matt Margolis of GOP Bloggers isn't waiting around for word from Johnson's doctors -- he's preemptively accusing Democrats of perfidy:

If Johnson did truly have a stroke, or is incapacitated by another illness, and the governor of South Dakota has to make an appointment, you can fully expect a huge bloody battle... lawyers and lawsuits, all trying to establish whether or not the governor has to appoint a Democrat to fill the seat -- which he does not have to, but you can certainly expect Democrats to attempt to make the case that he does.

Now, that's just nonsense. There'll be pleas and petition drives, maybe, but it appears that the law is quite clear on this matter (see, for instance, this story from the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader).

But two can play that preemptive-accusation game, Matt, so here goes.

If Johnson's condition is uncertain for some time to come and he chooses not to resign during his recovery, I predict that Republicans will try to rewrite history and imply that holding a seat open for an incapacitated senator is a devious and unprecedented trick being played on America by sleazy Democrats desperate to maintain their one-vote Senate majority. They'll probably get the idiots in the mainstream press to buy this argument, even though holding seats open is a long-established custom:

According to information from the Senate historian cited on, at least nine senators have taken extended absences from the Senate for health reasons since 1942. Robert F. Wagner, Democrat of New York, was unable to attend any sessions of the 80th or 81st Congress from 1947 to 1949 because of a heart ailment. Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, missed about seven months in 1988 after surgery for a brain aneurysm. And David Pryor, Democrat of Arkansas, suffered a heart attack in April 1991 and returned to the Senate in September that year.

And as Nina Totenberg pointed out this morning on NPR, Strom Thurmond continued to hold a Senate seat for the GOP in his late nineties even though he was clear to everyone that he was non compos mentis and he needed an attendant at all times.

If Johnson has a long convalescence and holds the seat, Republicans will try to banish this history from stories about Johnson. They'll insist that the Founders are rolling over in their graves. And the network talking heads will probably repeat that meme verbatim.

(Via Memeorandum.)


UPDATE: Good Lord, I just posted this and it already seems irrelevant -- via Atrios, I see that Fox News sickos are speculating on ways that Johnson can be legally deemed too incapacitated to serve, against his will.

I don't seem to recall anyone proposing that in Strom Thurmond's case. Do you?

Remember that Thurmond stayed in the Senate during the period after the 2000 elections, when, at first, the GOP barely controlled the Senate, then Democrats had a one-vote majority after the Jim Jeffords defection. Thurmond retired shortly after his hundredth birthday -- which was precisely when, in South Carolina, the governorship was switching from Democrat to Republican.


UPDATE: CNN reports that doctors say Senator Johnson had "a congenital arteriovenous malformation." Recovery is likely to take months, but apparently only 1% of people who have AVMs die "as a direct result."

CNN reminds us of a similar story from a few decades ago:

In 1969, another senator from South Dakota, Republican Karl Mundt, suffered a stroke and offered to resign if the governor appointed his wife to fill the vacancy. The governor refused, and Mundt retained his Senate seat until his term expired in 1973.

Remember that when Ann Coulter is telling Matt Lauer that letting Johnson keep his seat is underhanded and outrageous.

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