Lives of honor and courage

The Saline Courier - - OPINION -

Let us now praise two al­most­fa­mous men who served in the Se­nate for a com­bined to­tal of 74 years and died re­cently within three weeks of each other. Richard Lu­gar, a Repub­li­can from In­di­ana, and Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, a South Carolina Demo­crat, both took a bi­par­ti­san ap­proach to leg­is­lat­ing and left their coun­try a stronger, safer place.

To­day, law­mak­ers who dare to reach across the aisle are branded as heretics and threat­ened with pri­mary chal­lenges. So it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber a time when work­ing with po­lit­i­cal ri­vals to solve prob­lems was not just pos­si­ble, but pop­u­lar.

Lu­gar was com­pact and col­or­less, known for his early-morn­ing runs around Capi­tol Hill, even in lousy weather. A po­lit­i­cal ally, Wil­liam Ruck­elshaus, once joked about him, “Dick has main­tained that child­hood ca­pa­bil­ity of walk­ing into an empty room and blend­ing right in.”

Hollings was tall and lanky with a crack­ling wit that some­times got him in trou­ble. When a po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent chal­lenged him to take a drug test, Hollings fired back, “I’ll take a drug test if you’ll take an IQ test.” The New York Times once wrote, “Providence has blessed him with an ap­pear­ance so strik­ing that rank strangers as­sume he must be im­por­tant.”

In many ways, how­ever, their po­lit­i­cal lives took sim­i­lar paths. Both were mil­i­tary vet­er­ans. Hollings won a Bronze Star as an ar­tillery of­fi­cer in World War II. Lu­gar was too young for the war, but time as an in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer brief­ing the Navy’s top brass deep­ened his in­ter­est in de­fense and for­eign pol­icy.

Hollings was elected gov­er­nor of South Carolina at age 36. Lu­gar be­came mayor of In­di­anapo­lis at 35. Both lost their first tries for the Se­nate, and ran for pres­i­dent with abysmal re­sults. And both rep­re­sented van­ish­ing po­lit­i­cal breeds that are sorely missed in Congress to­day.

Hollings was a prag­matic South­ern Demo­crat in a state that was rapidly turn­ing Repub­li­can, and af­ter he re­tired in 2004, he was re­placed by hard-edged con­ser­va­tive Jim Demint. Lu­gar, a ded­i­cated in­ter­na­tion­al­ist, was de­feated in a GOP pri­mary in 2012 by a doc­tri­naire right-winger, Richard Mour­dock.

But the most im­por­tant trait they shared was a ca­pac­ity to change, grow and ap­ply their new knowl­edge to prac­ti­cal leg­isla­tive solutions. In 1986, Lu­gar led 31 Repub­li­cans in join­ing 47 Democrats to over­ride Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s veto of a bill im­pos­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions on South Africa. Lu­gar, re­ported the Los An­ge­les Times, “was cred­ited by the lib­er­als with mas­ter­mind­ing the pres­i­dent’s de­feat.”

The Repub­li­can’s most en­dur­ing suc­cess was work­ing with Sen. Sam Nunn, a Ge­or­gia Demo­crat, to en­act leg­is­la­tion that fi­nanced the dis­man­tling of nu­clear weapons in the for­mer Soviet Union. The Washington Post ed­i­to­ri­al­ized, “the pro­gram ranks as among the most suc­cess­ful con­gres­sional for­eign pol­icy ini­tia­tives in a gen­er­a­tion.”

One of Lu­gar’s pro­teges was a young first-term Demo­crat from Illi­nois, Barack Obama, who said of his men­tor: “In Dick, I saw some­one who wasn’t a Repub­li­can or a Demo­crat first, but a prob­lem-solver -- an ex­am­ple of the im­pact a pub­lic ser­vant can make by es­chew­ing par­ti­san di­vi­sive­ness to in­stead fo­cus on com­mon ground.”

Hollings grew up in the seg­re­gated South, but as gov­er­nor, he presided over the peace­ful in­te­gra­tion of Clem­son Univer­sity. “This Gen­eral As­sem­bly,” he told state law­mak­ers, “must make clear South Carolina’s choice: a gov­ern­ment of laws rather than a gov­ern­ment of men.”

As a sen­a­tor in the late 1960s, he toured poor ar­eas of his state and be­came a strong sup­porter of fed­eral pro­grams like food stamps. “There is hunger in South Carolina,” he told a Se­nate com­mit­tee. “I know as a pub­lic ser­vant I am late to the prob­lem, (but) we’ve got work to do in our own back­yard ... I’d rather clean it up than cover it up.”

In the 1980s, he worked with Repub­li­cans Phil Gramm of Texas and War­ren Rud­man of New Hamp­shire to en­act the Gramm-rud­man-hollings bill, which placed strict lim­its on con­gres­sional ex­pen­di­tures. It worked for a time, but even­tu­ally, clever con­gres­sional bud­get­busters found ways around the re­stric­tions.

Per­haps the most mem­o­rable mo­ment of Hollings’ ca­reer came in 2015, when he pro­posed that a fed­eral court­house named in his honor be re­named for Judge J.

Waties War­ing, an early and iso­lated voice for racial equal­ity. “I just got the money for the build­ing, he made his­tory in it,” Hollings ex­plained.

The sen­a­tor was be­ing too mod­est. Fritz Hollings and Dick Lu­gar both made his­tory. And to­day’s law­mak­ers can learn a lot from their lives of honor and courage.

•••

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by

email at steve­[email protected]

COKIE ROBERTS

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