The Quaker, the Baptist, the cow, and cloture

Of course Lieberman, Landrieu, and Nelson will do the right thing. Otherwise Harry Reid loses his seat and they have Chuck Schumer to deal with

Joe Lieberman, Mary Landrieu, and Ben Nelson seem likely to decide the fate of a heath-care reform bill with an opt-out public option.  If all three vote for cloture – even if they then vote against final passage – the bill becomes law.  Else, not.

So what will they do?  After extracting the maximum amount of “centrist” mileage and media attention by pretending to be undecided, they will all vote “Yes. ”  Partly that’s because joining with the Republicans to prevent a straight up-or-down vote on the key priority of a popular Democratic President is just too risky a move.

But it’s also the case that a defeat on health care would probably cost Harry Reid his seat, leaving Chuck Schumer as Majority Leader.  And that reminds me of the story of the Quaker and the cow:

A Quaker dairy farmer owned an obstreperous cow, who took advantage of the man’s good nature and pacific principles to act up in variety of ways.  Finally, one cold morning, she kicked over the milk pail, spilling all the milk.

The Quaker, keeping his voice low and reasonable, said to the cow, “Friend Bossy, thee knows that I may not strike thee.  But I can sell thee to that ornery Baptist down the road.”

Footnote Yes, “Thee knows … ” isn’t good Early Modern English; it should be “Thou knowest.”  But the “simple speech” of the Friends seems to have simplified away both the distinctions among the cases and the second-person-singular inflections of the verbs.

The use of “thee” wasn’t just an archaism.  George Fox had a point to make.  “You” was originally the second-person plural form, but became the form showing deference.  Fox and his followers claimed, somewhat fancifully, that it was not consistent with rigorous truth-telling to address a single person using a plural form, but the impulse was an egalitarian one.  It meant addressing a judge the same way one would address a beggar.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

5 thoughts on “The Quaker, the Baptist, the cow, and cloture”

  1. Bad example. You don't address a judge using the second person, but the third person singular (Your Honor).

  2. Mark, do you think Schumer would go for the nuclear option? I'd rather have Schumer with a 50 vote Senate than Reid with a 60.

  3. Dave, I suspect that Quakers wouldn't address judges using the customary form either. They probably said "thee," flouting the usual third-person formula. Demanding to testify on affirmation, as opposed to oath, was also a huge deal at the time. In Fox's day, some Quakers visited standard Christians' churches on Sunday wearing no clothes, to show their contempt for standard ceremonies. Even much later, in the eighteenth-century antislavery movement, Quakers were at least a strong plurality, but non-Quakers had to be in charge for organizing purposes, since Quakers wouldn't even sign letters with the usual salutations and closings ("your ob't servant" and all that). We forget just how radical Quakers were willing to be.

  4. You have it almost right. It should be, "After extracting concessions that make the bill suck even more than it already does, they will all vote, 'Yes.'" See also: the stimulus bill.

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