AN EDITORIAL in The Sun last month referred to "the tattered banner of states' rights," in a context that suggested the banner deserved to be tattered.
This month in a column published in The Evening Sun, Russell Baker sneered at what he called "that threadbare old banner. . . of states' rights."
I guess this means The Sun and Baker won't be endorsing Sen. Bob Dole's presidential bid. Senator Dole's campaign tee-shirts are emblazoned as follows:
"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."
That's the complete text of the tattered, threadbare Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, the so-called States' Rights amendment.
I suspect states' rights is an idea whose time has come back. Republicans of all stripes are hot to trot in behalf of what they call "devolution." It's the buzzword du jour.
My desk Merriam-Webster's says "de vo lu tion" is "transference (as of rights, powers, property or responsibility) to another; esp: the surrender of powers to local authorities by a central government."
That dictionary's second definition of de vo lu tion is "retrograde evolution," and this, I also suspect, is what people like Russell Baker and The Sun editorial writer fear.
They remember the bad old days of states' right. That was when politicians from Southern states insisted that the Cawn-stow-tooooooo-shun protected states' right even to enact and enforce segregation laws, even white supremacy laws.
Baker et al. see today's civilized Southern office holders like, oh, say, Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, devolving into Rep. Howard Smith -- sort of like homo sapiens turning back into a monkey.
You Readers old enough to remember the civil rights movement era probably remember Howard Smith. In fact, you Readers old enough to remember last month probably remember Howard Smith.
Representative Smith was a Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Rules Committee in the 1950s and 1960s. He used parliamentary skills, political wiles and, sometimes, scurrilous rhetoric, to keep civil rights bills from passage.
Last month, the new chairman of the Rules Committee, Rep. Gerald Solomon, a New York Republican, redecorated the committee office by hanging a portrait of Smith.
Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a brave young civil rights marcher in the South when Smith was Rules chairman, and several other members of the Congressional Black Caucus marched into the committee's office during a hearing to protest.
They seemed to be threatening a sit-in (how appropriate!). Chairman Solomon said that if it offended them that much, he would take the portrait down.
L He did, and replaced it with -- a portrait of Ronald Reagan.
Thursday: Whose portrait should he have replaced it with?