Inouye-Stevens: Loyalty Above All
Wednesday - August 06, 2008
Brothers and Sisters, my sermon this 13th week before the 2008 general election is on the topic of loyalty.
I’ve chosen for my text Sen. Dan Inouye’s response to the seven-count federal indictment of his Republican colleague from Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens. Said Brother (and Senator) Dan: “In our legal system, a man is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That is fundamental in our democracy. As far as I’m concerned, Ted Stevens remains my friend. I believe in him.”
Inouye and Stevens have been friends for a long time, for they share much in common. Both served with valor in World War II - Stevens as a pilot, Inouye as a Medal of Honor-winning infantry officer.
Both have been in the Senate - seemingly - forever: Inouye since 1962, Stevens since 1968.
Both enjoy the Senate’s coin of the realm - seniority: Stevens is the body’s longest-serving Republican and the Senate’s fourth-highest ranking member, Inouye is the third-highest ranking member, behind two ailing fellow Democrats - Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.
Both serve on the Senate’s powerful Appropriations Committee - that which doles out the federal dollars. As a result, both have done well for their states. Too well, in the opinion of some. One watchdog organization has cited Stevens for securing or playing a significant role in 891 budget earmarks that brought $3.2 billion in federal spending to Alaska between 2004 and 2008.
As those of us who live in Hawaii know, Inouye has marked up a few budget bills himself.
So how close is the Stevens-Inouye friendship? They refer to one another as “brother” (as we do, dear 11 congregants of “Mostly Politics”); and when Stevens became chair of the Senate Commerce Committee in 2005 he named Inouye “vice chair” rather than the customary “ranking member” of the minority. When the Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, Inouye did the same for Stevens.
But it goes deeper. Both men are political pragmatists who recognized long ago that no Hawaii or Alaska boy, coming from small, non-contiguous states with four and three electoral votes, respectively, had any chance of becoming president (Hawaii-born have to move to electoral vote rich Illinois in order to dream that particular dream.).
No, Inouye and Stevens would eschew the high-flown rhetoric of senatorial presidents in waiting for delivering federal dollars to their far-away states - states to be found only in the margins of their colleagues’ consciousness. In 2008, Alaska exists in the minds of most Americans as an arctic oil well - Hawaii as sand, surf and beautiful sunsets. Few take them seriously.
Which is OK, for men like Stevens and Inouye understand the importance of institutional loyalty - that their Senate patriotism can trump the indifference of their colleagues to the nation’s last 19th century colonial acquisitions.
Consider Inouye. During his 46 years in the Senate, he would serve on the Senate Watergate committee, chair the Iran-Contra committee and defend fellow Sen. Pete Williams of New Jersey on ethics charges. None was a plum assignment. They required wallowing in political muck. But Inouye did it, and his colleagues on both sides of the aisle appreciated his doing so.
Most recently, Inouye lined up behind Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president.
Because her husband had been good to Hawaii in the 1990s when economically things had not been good for Hawaii - and because Inouye had served with Sen. Clinton for a full term and respected his colleague’s work in the Senate - his beloved legislative home.
Opposing a Hawaii-born-and-educated young man named Barack Obama in 2008 was not a popular position to take, but Inouye did it. And he would do it again. It’s all about loyalty, personal and institutional.
As a result of the unpopularity of George W. Bush, Stevens was already trailing Democrat Mark Begich in Stevens’ 2008 re-election bid. The indictments will make it even tougher for Stevens. But don’t look for Democrat Inouye to make a speech on Begich’s behalf - or to make a contribution to Begich’s campaign.
It’s all about loyalty. End of sermon.
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