John Warner, a Republican who served in the US Senate for 30 years and died Wednesday at the age of 94 in his home state of Virginia, said this about his fellow Democrats: “We had political disagreements and we fought. in the Senate. But at the end of the day, we shared a drink, talked as friends, and found common cause, solving problems and serving the American public.
Jeez. Now there is a feeling that belongs to a time capsule, with rotary phones and videotapes.
He was fortunate enough to retire in 2009. Imagine how it would have felt to share the room with insurgent henchmen like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley. As a two-war veteran who cared deeply about the credibility of Congress, imagine how he would have felt compelled to breathe the same air as Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene.
The kind of Republican willing to work across the aisle has been dying and retiring for many years now – Arlen Specter, Richard Lugar, John Chafee, that’s a very long list – but Warner deserves attention. peculiar, not just because he’s one of the last to leave, not just because he was a glamorous guy who was married to Liz Taylor (husband # 6), but because he stood up to fanatics of right when it mattered most.
It may suffice to simply point out that a retired Warner admitted Donald Trump’s twisted betrayal a mile away – and signaled early support for Hillary Clinton. But it was a relatively easy call because in 2016 he no longer had to face voters. In truth, he bowed to his country-to-party instinct decades earlier.
A former Secretary of the Navy under Richard M. Nixon, he won his Senate seat in 1978 and dutifully followed the GOP line most of the time. But in those days when it was still possible for a Republican to put the country first, he did so without shaking in his boots.
When it became clear that gun violence was a national epidemic, he infuriated the enraged right wing by voting for gun safety measures and trying (unsuccessfully) to expand the federal gun ban. assault. He voted for some restrictions on abortion, but agreed that Roe vs. Wade was the law of the land.
Warner had supported George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, but in 2007 he called on Bush to bring the troops home, and he forced Pentagon officials to testify about the torture of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison. He opposed same-sex marriage, but when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs spoke out against gay men in the military, Warner said, “I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the President’s view that homosexuality is immoral. ”
But perhaps Warner’s most commendable moment came in 1994, when it emerged that Oliver North would become his colleague from Virginia in the Senate. The north, you may remember, was the main agent of the Iran-Contra scandal which had been convicted of criminal charges for lying to Congress; Understandably, the Virginia Right deified North as a hero and rewarded him with a GOP Senate nomination.
Warner refused to promise tribal loyalty and said North was unfit for public service. He helped save fellow Democrat Chuck Robb by endorsing an independent candidacy from moderate Republican Marshall Coleman. In November, the GOP vote was split and Robb survived. Home State Tories hated Warner’s profanity and tried to oust him in a Senate primary in 1996, but he didn’t bow and he didn’t lose.
Here is what he said: “I certainly risked my political future, for sure. But I prefer that the voters of this state remember that I stuck to my principle… It is the price of leadership.
If only the MAGA populace of today’s Senate could understand the meaning of his words and honor his legacy. Or at least thank him for his service. I just did.
Dick Polman, senior national political columnist and writer in residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes on DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]