Monday, April 19, 2010

Dodd’s Legacy

We think we know what made Dodd not run, but what makes him run? Over the last few months, U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd has been waving goodbye to the senate, a bittersweet farewell occasioned, some think, by plummeting polls and the perception on the part of some of his constituents that he stuck around too long, like some disintegrating, punch-drunk boxer dreaming of his glory days in the ring.

Then again, in the last few months, Dodd has been “born again” – this time as a reformer. Prior to his born-again experience, he was what Roll Call calls “the consummate insider.”

The senator after whom Dodd patterned himself, “lion of the senate” Edward Kennedy, was, to be sure, more “consummate,” beltway lingo indicating the congressional “virtue” of getting your way by playing between the keys of the political organ.

It is said by the chattering class that Dodd is “working on his legacy.” A politician’s legacy is what remains of him after he has left office, history’s verdict on his multifarious career. Someone who has served long in the senate acquires twists and turns that later, when he begins to assemble his legacy, prove useful in guiding the myth makers.

It helps a great deal if the politician is what flappers in the 30’s might call a “smooth talker.” Nixon was not a smoothie, though his career had in it more useful turns than the Mississippi.When Nixon left the presidency in disgrace, he immediately started work on his legacy. He stayed off the firing line and wrote books; soon headhunters in the media were heaping praise upon him, and he died buried under a mound of plaudits. Here and there a few commentators scattered critical remarks over the bones.

Bill Buckley once was asked what the real Nixon was like.

“Which one,” he answered. “There are about four of them.”

Dodd has had what funeral directors might call “a good run.” There were no drowned women in his life, no misplaced cigars. He had an easy time of it with Connecticut’s liberal-to-a-fault media, running afoul of the jaws that bite only when commentators feared he was romancing the right. He was divorced only once, falling far short of Lowell Weicker’s record. Even his fiercest critics would agree Dodd – not to speak of him overmuch in the past tense -- was a nice enough chap. The Ortega brothers appreciated his attentions in Nicaragua; Fidel Castro tossed no barbed words in his direction; and had Castro wannabe Hugo Chavez taken power in Venezuela when Dodd was off schmoozing with the Sandinistas, Chavez would have sniffed no odor of brimstone pouring off the sainted senator.

Dodd will be safe in the hand of his biographers. He need not fear his legacy will be less flattering than that bestowed on Weicker by his biographer in “Maverick,” once reviewed by Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer Chris Powell under the critical title, “Mr. Bluster Saves The World.”

If the liberal Dodd faltered when he helped to dissolve any remaining restrictions imposed by the Glass-Steagall Act on large financial firms, he recovered somewhat by aggressively supporting President Barack Obama’s Health Care initiative. If he faltered when he supported President George Bush’s war in Iraq, after first opposing intervention in the Persian Gulf, he recovered somewhat by supporting Obama’s often stated campaign promise to bring the troops home from Iraq when doing so would have doomed to failure the military effort in that country -- Bush’s military effort. In yet another political pirouette, Dodd cautiously supported Obama’s war in Afghanistan, sometimes called by disappointed world conquerors “the graveyard of empires.”

The senator's cozy connection with Countrywide was a scar on his reputation. But few seemed to realize that his invaluable assistance to Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, mortgage lenders too big to fail, may have been equally if not more problematic: One of the reasons large mortgage lenders were too big too fail was that congressional watchdogs such as Dodd and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank winked at their destructive lending practices. Indeed, Both Dodd and Frank rashly encouraged mortgage lenders to dole out tax dollars to recipients who could not afford mortgages.

We are told victory or utter collapse lie ahead of us, depending upon who is doing the telling. But history is not always a tale told by the victors. Sometimes it’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. That is more often the case when the powerful among us are permitted to shape their own legacies.
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