If the Senate Republicans truly wanted to make Tombstone Burris’ march on Washington a spectacle to bedevil the Democrats, here’s what they’d do.

They’d put on some choir robes, stand outside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office Wednesday and invite every news organization in the land to hear them sing.

They’d sing a cappella, in a mournful baritone, to mark the latest Democratic public relations disaster – the all-white Senate controlled by Democrats denying a seat to a duly appointed African-American. So if they wanted a true spectacle, the Republicans would hold hands and begin to croon:

“When Roland was in Harry’s hands – Let Our Roland Go!

“Go down, Roland, Go down, Roland, way down in Egypt land, Tell old Pharaoh Reid to … Let Our Roland Go!”

Now that would be something. But I don’t think the Republicans have the spectacles for the job.

And so, what happened Tuesday, as Roland Burris tried to take his seat as Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s legally appointed senator from Illinois, was no spectacle. Not even close, despite all the shrieking from reporters.

All Burris did was go into an office, get turned away on a technicality, then walk outside, where he stood under an umbrella and, before hundreds of reporters, made his momentous statement. It was about as spicy as a meal of lentils and lukewarm tap water.

“My name is Roland Burris, the junior senator of the state of Illinois. I presented my credentials to the secretary of the Senate and was advised that my credentials were not in order and that I will not be accepted and will not be seated. I’m not seeking to have any kind of confrontation,” Tombstone said.

Wow. Mr. Excitement. But that didn’t stop the cable news shriekers.

“It was a madhouse!” one cable reporter said. “He was turned away!” another shouted. “We’ll bring you every step of the spectacle!” one anchor said. “The spectacle around it was stunning!” a reporter said.

Hardly a spectacle. Instead, it went according to script. The Democratic dike will leak and they’ll eventually seat Burris, as I predicted, because Democrats can’t survive without blacks voting in lock step. Gov. Dead Meat of Chicago understands the politics of race and symbolism. What he screwed up on was speaking unwittingly into federal microphones.

After Tuesday’s non-spectacle, a very nice CNN reporter interviewed me about the spectacle.

It wasn’t a spectacle, I said. Then I looked directly into the camera, as if I were selling ShamWows, the miracle fabric that sops up cola from under your white shag carpet – for only $19.99. “It’s just Chicago politics,” I said to the nation with a stupid leer on my face. “Get used to it.”

It’s too bad the spectacle-hungry broadcast media weren’t around in 1856 with their digital cameras and glitzy cable graphics.

That’s when U.S. Rep. Preston Brooks, D-S.C., began beating the heck out of Massachusetts Republican Sen. Charles Sumner. Not with his shoes. But with a hardwood walking cane. On the Senate floor.

Now that was a spectacle.

It shocked the heck out of the senators, but none more so than the abolitionist Sumner, who a few days earlier made the mistake of insulting Brooks’ cousin in a speech against slavery.

The issue was whether Kansas would be a free or slave state, and Sumner ripped into the cousin, making fun of a physical disability. Sumner also ridiculed Illinois Sen. Stephen Douglas as a “noise-some, squat and nameless animal, not a proper model for an American senator.”

Naturally, as an Illinois Democrat, Douglas avoided confrontation even after the terrible insult to his manhood.

According to various accounts, Brooks walked into the Senate chamber May 22, 1856, and hefted a cane of the type used to thwack unruly hounds. He thwacked it repeatedly against the unsuspecting Sumner’s head and back. Sumner staggered up the aisle and collapsed into a pool of his own blood, unconscious.

It took three years for Sumner to recover and return to the Senate. In the meantime, Brooks, thinking he was really tough, challenged U.S. Rep. Anson Burlingame, a Republican critic, to a duel.

Dueling etiquette dictates that the challenged party selects the weapons. Burlingame was an expert hunter and marksman. If he were around today, he’d never pull a Cheney and shoot his hunting partner in the face “by accident” with a shotgun, even if the guy was a lawyer.

Burlingame was of a different age. He was a deer hunter. So he chose rifles, not canes.

Not being an idiot, Brooks became terribly afraid, ran away and died a miserable coward in 1857, shamed for backing out of a duel that he started. Sumner remained in the Senate for 17 years afterward and saw the end of slavery.

Now all that would be a spectacle.

But what we’ve been treated to lately, as white Democrats denied a black a seat in the Senate, was no national spectacle.

It’s just an Illinois scriptacle.

John Kass is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. E-mail at [email protected]

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