Friend­ship of Rud­man, Inouye en­no­bled Se­nate

(To­day), op­por­tu­ni­ties to get to know col­leagues are rarer than ever.

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - Su­nunu, a former Repub­li­can se­na­tor from New Hamp­shire, writes reg­u­larly for The Bos­ton Globe.


wasn’t really Harry Tru­man who said, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” And if he had, he would have been wrong. Though the na­tion’s cap­i­tal has no short­age of egos, mis­an­thropes and bores — in­side and out­side the cor­ri­dors of power — it has its share of en­gag­ing per­son­al­i­ties as well. If you can’t en­joy com­mon ground with at least a few, you’re prob­a­bly not try­ing very hard.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Demo­crat who passed away last week af­ter rep­re­sent­ing Hawaii in Congress for more than 50 years, counted more friends than most. In one of his last pub­lic ap­pear­ances, he spoke a month ago at a me­mo­rial ser­vice for War­ren Rud­man, a New Hamp­shire Repub­li­can who served in the Se­nate from 1980 to 1993. Their friend­ship was un­usual, given the ge­og­ra­phy and ide­ol­ogy that sep­a­rated the two. Yet it was em­blem­atic of the per­sonal bonds that used to be quite com­mon and strong among U.S. sen­a­tors.

For all of the for­mal­ity at­tached to Se­nate pro­ce­dure, the floor it­self re­mains a hub for per­sonal in­ter­ac­tion. Dur­ing any given vote the cham­ber is filled with sen­a­tors milling about, chat­ting and get­ting busi­ness done. Ev­ery re­quest imag­in­able, from cospon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion to at­tend­ing the weekly prayer break­fast is made in full view of the pub­lic gal­leries.

Inouye’s leg­endary re­la­tion­ship with Alaska Repub­li­can Ted Stevens was like fam­ily; both served in World War II, led their states into the union, en­tered Congress within a few years of one an­other, and spent a ca­reer on the Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. In con­trast, Inouye’s friend­ship with Rud­man so­lid­i­fied dur­ing a tough pro­fes­sional as­sign­ment: lead­ing the Se­nate IranCon­tra hear­ings 25 years ago.

Inouye and Rud­man were per­fectly matched — prin­ci­pled, but not es­pe­cially par­ti­san, and re­spected on both sides of the aisle. Given the na­tional se­cu­rity im­pli­ca­tions of the hear­ings, they had to share full con­fi­dence in one an­other, and the bond that formed never faded. One of the few per­sonal pho­tos Inouye kept in his of­fice was a snap­shot of Rud­man’s dog — a fact Rud­man al­ways rel­ished.

To­day, the lament that such per­sonal re­la­tion­ships are part of a by­gone era has be­come so com­mon as to be trite. Mem­bers of Congress no longer pos­sess the time once al­lot­ted to purely so­cial in­ter­ac­tion with col­leagues. Fundrais­ing con­sumes a large part of that time, usu­ally in the guise of lunches or evening re­cep­tions with an ob­vi­ous par­ti­san bent. Par­ti­san cau­cus lunches are held three days dur­ing a typ­i­cal week in the Se­nate.

For years the Styles Bridges Room, just op­po­site the Se­nate Din­ing Room, served as a bi­par­ti­san lunch­room for sen­a­tors only — no staff or guests al­lowed. It was a shel­ter from ex­ter­nal par­ti­san pres­sures and de­mands on sen­a­tors’ per­sonal time. Over time, how­ever, the reg­u­lar cau­cus lunches meant that fewer and fewer sen­a­tors stopped by for the ca­sual sand­wich and easy con­ver­sa­tion upon which real re­la­tion­ships could grow.

To­day, lunch is no longer served in the Bridges Room, and op­por­tu­ni­ties to get to know col­leagues are rarer than ever. The Se­nate is worse for it.

Friends trust one an­other; friends ne­go­ti­ate in good faith; friends can com­mit to a deal with a hand­shake.

Inouye sealed just such an agree­ment with me in 2007. Sur­rounded by a few staff and one or two other sen­a­tors, we set the terms of a ban on In­ter­net taxes. With the frame­work out­lined on a sheet of pa­per, he qui­etly is­sued an edict to his team: “Get it done.” Less than a day later, he waved off a Demo­crat’s at­tempt to weaken one pro­vi­sion. “That’s not what we agreed to,” he scolded his aides, and the bargain held.

That kind of in­tegrity forges friend­ships and in­spires loy­alty — a sen­ti­ment Inouye and Rud­man cher­ished and were known for through­out their lives. Watch­ing the honor guard carry Inouye’s flag-draped cof­fin be­neath the Capi­tol Ro­tunda last week, it was im­pos­si­ble not to re­flect on the mil­i­tary ca­reer that took his arm and earned him the Medal of Honor. Like Rud­man, Inouye rarely spoke about his wartime ser­vice, but it was a source of pride. “It was,” he ob­served at Rud­man’s me­mo­rial, “one of the things we val­ued very much — we were both in­fantry.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine two peo­ple who bet­ter ex­em­pli­fied a pa­tri­otic love of coun­try and the ideal of bi­par­ti­san friend­ship. Tru­man’s myth­i­cal line not­with­stand­ing, they could count plenty of friends in Washington — the real kind — and they will be missed.

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