Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Independence Day 2021

Happy Independence Day! (This post is mostly reruns of good stuff.)

First up, here's NPR's annual reading of the Declaration of Independence:

Next up, in 2020, NPR asked descendants of Frederick Douglass to deliver excerpts from his speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?”

You can read the full speech here. The descendants' names and ages are listed on the YouTube page here. NPR notes that "this video was inspired by Jennifer Crandall's documentary project" Whitman, Alabama.

Moving to music, Marvin Gaye provides the sublime, with one of my all-time favorite renditions of the national anthem:

The Muppets provide some silliness and enthusiasm:

Finally, Pete Seeger provides an undeniable spark, singing his pal Woody Guthrie's most famous song:

I hope everyone has a good and safe Independence Day.

Saturday, July 03, 2021

John Warner (1927–2021)

John Warner, who served as a U.S. Senator from Virginia from 1979 to 2009 and the Secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974, died on May 25th at the age of 94. His funeral was held at Washington National Cathedral on June 23rd, with Joe Biden giving one of the eulogies. Warner was a Republican and I didn't agree with all of his votes, but I lived in the D.C. area for a time and respected some of his actions.

The Washington Post obituary gives a good summing up:

Because of his willingness to buck his increasingly conservative party, Mr. Warner became the Republican whom many Virginia independents and Democrats respected and voted for. By the time he retired in 2009, he held the second-longest tenure of any senator from Virginia.

As a former secretary of the Navy and, in later years, one of only a handful of World War II veterans in the Senate, Mr. Warner held considerable authority in military matters. His consensus-building on many critical issues led him to be known as one of the Senate’s more influential members. He also brought a touch of glamour to the political world through his six-year marriage to film star Elizabeth Taylor.

As chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Mr. Warner provided critical support for President George W. Bush’s handling of the war in Iraq, beginning in 2003. During debate on a Democratic call for the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in 2007, Mr. Warner led the Republican opposition, saying, “What we have on the line is the credibility of the United States of America.”

The next year, however, he broke with the Bush administration’s proposed “surge” of additional troops for Iraq and disagreed with his own Senate ¬subcommittee’s recommendation authorizing a higher level of military force. His stance strengthened Democratic efforts to curtail spending on the war.

“The reason I’m into this situation so deeply,” he said, “is that I feel that the American citizens have given so generously with their sons and daughters. Have we not fulfilled our commitment to the Iraqi people?”

He also urged the administration to give more attention to rebuilding the economy of Iraq.

Along with Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), Mr. Warner co-sponsored legislation that banned the torture of terrorism suspects. He also opposed some Bush administration efforts to use military commissions to place terrorism suspects on trial at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Mr. Warner frequently went against his party in domestic affairs. He supported legal abortion, although he voted in favor of numerous limitations on the procedure; supported gun control; voted against confirmation of President Ronald Reagan’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork; and urged lifting Bush’s restrictions on stem-cell research. In 2005, he was part of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” that prevented either party from using parliamentary maneuvers on judicial appointments.

He was no maverick, though. Mr. Warner supported the three Republican presidents under whom he served — Reagan and the two Bushes — more than 90 percent of the time.

A Washington Post editorial board piece adds:

He was, to be sure, a rock-ribbed Republican. Yet the Warner brand of Republicanism — suspicious of populism, repelled by extremists, prizing principle over partisanship — is all but unrecognizable today. After a five-term career in the Senate marked by frequent breaks with GOP orthodoxy, it was hardly a shock when, shunning Donald Trump in both his presidential campaigns, he endorsed Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden last year. . . .

It wasn’t just that he looked the part of a senator; he fully inhabited the role. No one doubted his rectitude or his willingness to break with his party. He did so repeatedly, embracing abortion rights and gun control (including a federal ban on assault weapons) and rejecting the legal basis for impeaching President Bill Clinton, the then-prevalent GOP view of homosexuality as immoral and President Ronald Reagan’s Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork. In 1994, when Mr. Warner spurned the GOP’s nominee for Virginia’s other Senate seat, Oliver North, and endorsed an independent, it helped split the Republican vote and sealed the race for the Democratic candidate, former governor Charles Robb. Many Republicans were furious; Mr. Warner had the stature to ignore them.

Party-before-country Republicans may have been furious, but what the Post doesn't include is that John Warner opposed the slimy Oliver North for his key involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, and that opposition garnered respect from many Virginia voters, including a significant number of those inclined to vote for Democrats and independents. It's one of the reasons John Warner defeated Democratic challenger Mark Warner in their pretty close 1996 U.S. Senate race. (Mark Warner went on to be Virginia's governor and is one of its current U.S. Senators, of course.)

I appreciated John Warner opposing Oliver North, torture and the growing extremism in his party. I also appreciated that his office was responsive to constituents. I had a family member who encountered problems when the Commonwealth of Virginia sent a much-higher-than-usual tax bill due to a mistake. My family member couldn't resolve the issue with the state office, and then contacted Warner's office by mail. Warner's office added a cover letter asking the Virginia state office to look into the matter, which was then eventually resolved. (Apparently, Warner's office had a good track record on constituent services.) That may seem like a small thing to some people, but it earns big points in my book when politicians actually help their constituents and not just their donors.

Although not all of John Warner's votes and positions may have been great, he was certainly much better than most of the current crop of Republicans in Congress. The Washington Post op-ed linked above makes that point, as does Paul Kane in "The death of independent-minded John Warner is a reminder of how much today’s senators have ceded power to party leaders." Finally, the Post's letters to the editor several nice remembrances from local readers.