It’s so ironic that the title of Warren Rudman’s memoir was “Combat.” He was a veteran, yes. He could be pugnacious indeed, but only when forced to return fire with fire. Striking a blow with a cheap shot? Not in his lifetime. For the former New Hampshire Senator who passed away last week, by the book is what defined the career.
I can think of many characteristics that sum up Rudman’s Senate service. Integrity. Scruples. Sound judgement. Duty to country. Steward of next generation. Man of common ground. Indeed, just as Thomas Jefferson never wanted his Presidency to appear on the gravestone he designed, Rudman’s proudest boast was his service to the legal community: lawyer, prosecutor, Attorney General, counselor, etc. A U.S. Senate seat just happened along the way.
For the political junkies and then some, there are a few ironies of Rudman’s death. He is the second Jewish Senator elected as a Republican in 1980 to die of lymphoma at 82 (Arlen Specter died last month). The incumbent Democratic Senator that Rudman beat to first win his seat, John Durkin, also passed away in the past few months.
But the most consequential irony in the timing of Rudman’s death involves the law his name is forever attached to, Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, which of course mandates automatic budget cuts if a balanced budget cannot be reached. The proverbial fiscal cliff, which is at it’s penultimate existence right now, is undoubtedly a descendant of Gramm-Rudman-Hollings.
The law put everything on the table, bar none, including Social Security. It even included the term “sequestration.” But Rudman was no ideologue. He was a realist. He was strongly pro-choice, supported environmental regulations, opposed wasteful military budgets, and was not adverse to higher taxes. His singular goal was simply to make the next generation sustainable. His frustration with the intractability of the federal deficit was genuine, so much so that he seriously considered quitting Congress.
On another matter, Rudman’s penchant for fairness was so well known that he was often selected as the lead Republican on, sensitive issues for Republicans:investigations involving their own. Rudman was the top Republican on the committee investigating Iran-Contra. He worked harmoniously with the panel’s chairman, Daniel Inouye, resisted conservative attempts to brand Oliver North a hero,and actually signed the final committee report produced by the Democratic majority.
In today’s climate, that would be implausible, a cause for treason followed by a definite tar and feather.
A few years later, Rudman again held his party’s baton as the Ethics Committee took up the matter of the “Keating Five.” This was an especially sensitive area because it involved Senate colleagues tarred by the S&L scandal. Rudman clashed with chairman Howell Heflin but behind the scenes, it was Rudman’s advice that was sought from the committee’s Democratic attorney, Bob Bennett, who was resisting calls from his own party for not being partisan enough.
Rudman also found ethics reform necessary. He pushed through a bipartisan package, only to see it vetoed by Reagan.
Yet it was Rudman’s legal mind that conquered all. Moviegoers of ” Lincoln ” might marvel at the President’s ability to explain the intricacies of the 13th amendment.
So were Senate colleagues with Rudman when it came to complex legal matters.
Colleagues would approach him with matters ranging from scandal to personal conduct that threatened to become scandals (extra-marital affairs). People felt comfortable with Rudman because he did things by the book. That’s not to much to expect. Another thing people expect: the truth. And Rudman had a saying, “just tell the truth and watch them scatter.”
If one needs more convincing about Rudman’s uniform respect, consider this. Here was a Republican Senator who was approached by Clinton to be his Treasury Secretary, and by Ross Perot to be his running mate. As Rudman the trial lawyer would say, “I rest my case.”
One reason for Rudman’s ability to maintain his virtues is that when in DC,he never let his rock-ribbed New Hampshire values take over. His views of the nation’s capital were not sugarcoated. He often passed up White House receptions because he didn’t like to wear bow ties.“I don’t like this town,” he said.”I don’t like this whole atmosphere. There’s too much money, too much influence, too much phoniness. And I just don’t like it. Period.”
The book,”Politics in America 1992” aptly said Rudman ”harbors a skepticism toward the ways of Washington that is second nature to his NH constituents.
How appropriate that Rudman was the lead sponsor and close friends with of David Souter, a man of similarly simple means and intellectual outlook (he lived in a cabin). Conversely, though he had nothing to do with Clarence Thomas’ nomination, he backed it, but later said that he would not have had he been the deciding vote. Doing so, he said, was necessary to maintain leverage for future New Hampshire projects and nominations.
After leaving the Senate, Rudman founded the Concord Coalition with his former colleague, Paul Tsongas, himself a prominent stalwart proponent of a balanced budget.
It was once said about Phil Hart, for whom the Senate office building where Rudman was sat was named that Democrats would vote one way nd Republicans would vote another. Then “we’d gather around Phil to see the right way.” When Hart died, Rudman could easily have fit the bill.
Could Rudman get elected today? Well, he won his first Senate primary with just 20% of the vote, benefitting from a conservative split. The person he edged out: John Sununu, whose approach to politics are, shall we say, vastly different from Rudman’s. So winning the primary would be problematic. But in a general, his numbers would likely be stratospheric, just as his popularity was when he decided not to seek re-election.
Just after that announcement, Bob Dole called Rudman a”Senator’s Senator,” adding “you don’t replace guys like Warren Rudman. You just hope there are more that come along to take his place.”
At this moment, there are many newly elected members of Congress who are waiting to take his place. And surely, they can benefit from a crash course in Rudmanism. I wish only one would. Sadly, in this climate, it would probably be to no avail.
In closing, the term”gentleman and a scholar”are widely overused but I think I’d get unanimous consent that Rudman was without question, a master of both.