Wednesday, April 09, 2008

GOP Good Guys

Did you notice General Petraeus' testimony to the Senate this week? The man has some serious skills. I don't mean his military skills, which won't be known for decades. I mean his political skills. Here was his thesis: "My plan for the Surge went great, but not so great that we can bring any troops home. Beyond that I have almost nothing to say." Dish that message to Congress for a day without losing your head, and you have political dexterity in the Jedi range.

Now, in regard to this week's title. It's true that I'm no Republican, but that doesn't mean I regard all GOP big shots as bad guys. Some of them, I think, would make pretty good neighbors - the rare kind with lots of stories, NONE of them boring. Would I vote for any of them? I guess it would depend on the opposition, and how badly I wanted the neighbor to stay in town.
I saw Pennsylvania's Arlen Spector on TV a week or so ago. He's written his own story of overcoming cancer and is now promoting the book. Spector goes back quite a long time. He was part of the staff of the Warren Commission which investigated the Kennedy assassination. His latest high profile stance was in opposition to Alberto Gonzales, the feckless Bush flunky who was way over his head as Attorney General.
It was easy to see that Spector is a person of character, not always popular in his own party, but happy to be alive after the cancer and still not jaded after a long Senate career. Now in his seventies, he gives the impression of wanting to outlast the century-old Strom Thurmond. I'm not sure that's a good idea.
Do you know the name Chuck Grassley? Another long time senator, Grassley has perfected the art of being low profile. The man is as dependable as the tides. Never misses a vote. Visits all of Iowa's ninety nine counties every year, and gives out the image of someone who stepped off the farm a month or two ago. You know his name will never turn up on any scandal list, but his voting record is pretty boring, too.
Grassley spent lots of time in the back pocket of Bob Dole, another guy you have to respect. Wounded in WW II, he's been tying his necktie one-handed for over sixty years. He got a reputation back in Kansas as someone who could not be outworked, and he took that rep to Washington where he led Senate Republicans until he ran for president in 1996, losing to Bill Clinton. One day in that campaign, he fell a few feet through a railing at a rally. Someone later asked if it had been a tough day on the campaign trail. His reply was something like, "I got up, didn't I?" He was smart enough to remake himself from the small-town lawyer from a stark little town in western Kansas, the kind of place Eisenhower had gone to West Point in order to leave. I think the regard he and Clinton seemed to give each other in that campaign was genuine, and tells us a little about both of them.
And there are others. Jesse Helms was the most conservative man in the Senate, but he was always friendly to Washington tourists, and not just those from North Carolina. He made friends with rocker Bono late in his career. My old congressman Jim Leach was no more charismatic than a lumpy sweater which he wore to an event at the local library. The sole agenda item was Leach patiently answering one silly question after another, all subjects eligible, giving low key answers until the questions finally petered out.
As someone in this space has written a few weeks back, politics can be a rough old business. But it's wrong to think that therefore everyone in American politics is some kind of shark. Some are good, reliable, principled people, even some of the Republicans.


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