Monday, August 15, 2005

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The Darkness Before Sunset

This piece by the fine Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Katherine Skiba was one I really didn't want to read.

As Dan mentioned in introducing me, I did some work in the Senate years ago. William Proxmire was the senior colleague of my boss, Republican Bob Kasten (R-WI). Prox was an revered figure in Wisconsin politics at that time, known for never soliciting campaign contributions and for running to and from the office every day. He was also a very good colleague to have, in the sense that he didn't have much interest in claiming credit for appropriations and grants coming into the state or even in attending to constituent mail.

These things he mostly left to Kasten's office, which as our boss approached his reelection campaign we found very convenient. It was also a little unusual, of course, but Prox was unusual in many ways. He had his causes over the years, some of them very good ones -- we largely have him to thank for the fact that the United States never wasted billions on a supersonic transport program -- that he pursued with the aid of a talented but small staff. I figured at the time that Prox felt so secure politically that he didn't need to worry about reelection and liked doing his annual press release announcing how much of his clerk hire allowance he was returning to the Treasury. It occurred to me later that with his forceful but somewhat distant personality and, perhaps, the early stages of his illness he might just have found a small staff made up of familiar faces easier to deal with.

Prox was reliably liberal on a lot of issues, but having fought battles early in his political career against Joe McCarthy never felt he had to prove his loyalty to liberal causes, or to the Democratic Party either. I wonder what he would have thought of today's interest group-driven Senators campaigning and fundraising throughout their six-year terms like so many Congressmen. His would be a good voice to hear about politics today.

We won't hear it, sadly. Like Ronald Reagan, Proxmire suffers the curse of a strong constitution, able to withstand any injury or illness except the one he has. It's a terrible thing to contemplate.

posted by Joseph Britt on 08.15.05 at 11:02 PM


A very nice post about Senator Proxmire and I appreciate the information about him. Truly sad. I wish him and his loving family well. Thanks for the posting.

posted by: Sergeant on 08.15.05 at 11:02 PM [permalink]

Don't forget his tireless efforts to convince the US to sign the Genocide Convention treaty. There's a wonderful account of this in Samantha Power's "Problem from Hell".

posted by: mrjauk on 08.15.05 at 11:02 PM [permalink]

Proxmire was a reliable leftist who was so entirely predictable you could set a watch to his votes. Interesting you cite his opposition to McCarthy, since McCarthy was right in his charges about the communist inflitration of the government during the prior two administrations. Proxmire's defense of the Communists at State today make him look both foolish and either the victim of his aides or just living in a parallel universe. It appears the data he gleans from the papers today is no less astute than in his defense of communists at State.

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