Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Warren Rudman

It's probably an exaggeration to call Warren Rudman "the last of the sane Republicans," but he was surely one of the last and one of the sanest.  Serious liberals may have trouble forgiving him for his fiscal conservatism--the attitude that impelled him to collaborate with Pete Peterson in the creation of the fiscally hawkish Concord Coalition; or perhaps worse, for consorting with the likes of Senator Phil Gramm.  But even the unsympathetic will have to credit him with two remarkable virtues not in wide availability today: one, an openness to evidence (when did this become a rarity?); and the other, an almost obsessive eagerness to believe that "we can work things out."

Rudman, then, was a  "moderate," but not precisely a centrist.  He maintained a commitment to arithmetic and to budgets that made sense, and a corresponding aversion to nostrums of all sorts.  From another perspective, you'd have to say that he was a moderate but not squishy.   He'd done a bit of boxing and he liked to tell people how in childhood he had made his way on the street with his fists (he carried himself like a kinder, gentler version of James Caan in Las Vegas).

Rudman's resume displayed at least two bullet points notable for their absence in more recent conservative resumes. One, bona fide military service (he won a bronze star in Korea); and two, a bit of genuine have-you--met a payroll business experience (he spent his early years as operations manager for a family furniture company). 

In another respect, Rudman displayed himself as more dramatically out of step with what passes for conservatism today: his profound lack of sympathy for theocracy.  This might be partly a New Hampshire thing: New Hampshire conservatism has always coupled pennypinching with secularism.  But whatever the source, it appears that Rudman was entirely sincere in his conviction that the Republicans had nothing to gain from cozying up to the religious right.

Rudman died yesterday at 82.  There is much more, including an account of what Rudman counted as his most important achievement, in Adam Clymers' appreciative New York Times obituary here.  An obituary from his hometown newspaper is here, together with some interesting links.

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