Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Aint No Way

Earlier this week on my way to work, I heard that Senator Daniel Inouye had passed away.  Of course I never knew the man, but he was a politician I respected so was saddened to hear the news.

In the late spring and early summer of 1973, much of America had their heads around the ongoing Watergate hearings in Washington.  Senator Inouye was on the committee that was examining what the "president knew and when did he know it."  These are the hearings, you may recall, during which John Dean spent three days revealing the inner workings of the executive office and how a coverup had infected the president's office after the 1972 break-in at the Watergate complex.

I spent a good deal of time watching those hearings in May and early June. In mid June I was visiting a buddy who did not have a tv but the two of us listened, 1940 style, to the radio and I recall hearing Dean's first day of testimony during which he made a very long statement about the Nixon White House. Dean's account was disputed by other members of the White House, yet these challenges were undermined when Alexander Butterfield, another witness to the committee, revealed that all conversations in the oval office had been taped--thus ensuring that disputed renditions of events could or could not be substantiated.

Daniel Inouye stood out during this time as a person of integrity who would not be bullied and was riveted firmly on an ethical foundation.  Even the Nixon White House grudgingly agreed with this depiction.  When they were reviewing the committee members and attempting to assess who would or would not be a loyalist, John Ehrlichman referred to Senator Inouye as "Aint no way" as in there aint no way this guy would be loyal to anything other than his sense of right and wrong. Inouye was also a co-chairman of the Iran-Contra hearings in 1987 and here again, established himself as a person of ethical conviction.

So,  I was sad to hear that he was gone as were, according to reports, many even conservative colleagues in the senate.

Contrast this with the news that Judge Robert Bork passed away today.  Judge Bork is known to those who followed the Watergate case as the Solicitor General who fired Archibald Cox on the night called The Saturday Night Massacre.  President Nixon feeling as if the special prosecutor Cox was investigating too industriously, ordered Elliot Richardson, the attorney general, to fire Cox.

Richardson refused. Richardson had promised Cox a free rein in the investigation and therefore claimed that he could not fire Cox for conducting the investigation in the manner Cox felt was appropriate.  Richardson's associate, William Ruckelshaus, also would not fire Cox.  Next in line was Robert Bork.  Bork did fire Cox.  To some that seemed inappropriate.  If a special prosecutor is investigating the president, and the president fires the special prosecutor, it erodes the credibility of the investigation.  Many people felt that the attorney general's office could not do what it purports to be doing--uphold the law--, if it was complicit or even seemed to be complicit in an obstruction of an investigation.  So, Bork's willingness to do what the president asked him to do, fire the special prosecutor--especially since Bork's bosses refused to comply--made Bork seem like a toady and someone willing to compromise the judicial process.  Fourteen years later when Bork was nominated by then President Reagan to be a supreme court justice, the senate voted NOT to confirm the pick from the very popular president.

Regardless of political orientation, people respect those who stand on an ethical foundation.  According to some friends of Bork, his rejection by the senate made him increasingly more conservative. Inouye, on the other hand, was able to endear those on both sides of the political spectrum because he supported something that Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, and Liberals all respect--the combination of honesty, courage, and loyalty to the principles on which the country was founded.  It always seems to me that when we look back on those we knew in politics, in our family, in our organizations, and in our relationships--those who stand out are those who stood for doing the right thing.

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