I used to have many conservative friends. I enjoyed discussing, debating, and arguing the issues of the day with people who disagreed with me. I miss those exchanges. I learned how to argue politics from my father who was a center right Republican himself. He taught me that friendship was more important than politics. Lou knew how to disagree without being disagreeable. That’s how it should be in a democracy but no longer is.
Things started to go haywire during the Iraq War when some of my conservative friends argued that torture during wartime was acceptable. I never agreed and never will, but I could still cite conservatives such as John McCain and John Warner as being on my side. They don’t make Republicans like the two Johns anymore.
Former Virginia Senator John Warner died on Tuesday at the age of 94. He served five terms in the United States senate and made many friends and few enemies except those on the lunatic fringe of his own party.
Warner was a senator out of central casting: charming, genteel, handsome and on the verbose side. He usually voted with his party but could be persuaded to break with his fellow Republicans if a strong enough case was made. He was conservative but open minded.
John Warner always tried to do the right thing. After allegations of fraud were made in the super-close 1996 Louisiana Senate runoff between Mary Landrieu and wingnut Woody Jenkins, the ball landed in Warner’s lap as chairman of the rules committee. Warner ran a fair process, no fraud was found, and Landrieu was seated. The minute I heard that Warner was in charge, I relaxed because I knew he was a fair and decent man. For more on that crazy election, read Lamar White’s piece at Bayou Brief.
There’s a wonderful tribute to John Warner by New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore who worked in the senate as a Democratic aide when Warner was an important member of that body. Kilgore maintains that Senator Warner should be remembered for opposing extremism in his own party:
His long congressional career, which ended in retirement in 2009, was marked by his lofty position in the bipartisan-defense establishment, tons of military pork to keep restive Virginians satisfied, and, despite a generally orthodox Republican voting record, occasional high-profile acts of heresy. It was no great surprise when Warner announced support for Democrat Mark Warner (no relation) as his successor, and he was among the early Republican supporters of Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump in 2016. Years earlier, he staved off the takeover of his party by right-wing zealots such as Oliver North that would presage the danger to come.
… Warner was an exemplar of the days before ideological rigidity gripped the GOP. Despite supporting some abortion restrictions, he was fundamentally pro-choice, which is a nearly extinct point of view among Republicans today. He joined his friend Ted Kennedy in opposing Robert Bork’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, a cause that is still dear to an older generation of conservatives. He supported the Brady Bill and other gun-safety measures. Even on defense issues, he was not entirely predictable; as Armed Services chairman, he opposed the Bush administration’s last “surge” in Iraq and joined John McCain in opposing torture by the military and intelligence agencies.
It was his willingness now and then to buck party discipline even in elections, though, that is now so amazing. In 1994, Oliver North — the key Iran-Contra operative convicted for lying to Congress who became a right-wing hero (sort of the Michael Flynn of his era) — won the GOP nomination to take on Warner’s Democratic colleague, Chuck Robb, who looked doomed by allegations of sexual misconduct and drug use. Instead of putting on the party harness, Warner endorsed an independent bid by moderate Republican Marshall Coleman, which split the GOP vote and made it possible for Robb to survive in a very Republican year. That Warner was renominated twice after that episode was a testament to his appeal and perhaps to the now-departed tolerance of Republicans for dissent.
Unlike the cowards and radicals among today’s Republican senators, John Warner was a true conservative. He wanted to preserve what was best about America but was willing to discuss ways to improve it. In that way, he was like my conservative friends and father who kept the lines of communication open despite our disagreements. Those days are long gone, but I miss them and always will.
I concur with Ed Kilgore’s description of John Warner as a “glamorous Republican heretic.” He practiced what he preached. The man *was* married to Elizabeth Taylor who was a liberal, after all. Rest in peace, Senator.
They don’t make Republicans like John Warner anymore. Isn’t it a pity?
The last word goes to George Harrison: