Thursday, January 04, 2007

Principle and Compromise


"I'm just an old-fashioned garden variety of Republican who believes in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, in Abraham Lincoln, who accepts the challenges as they arise from time to time, and who is not unappreciative of the fact that this is a dynamic economy ... and sometimes you have to change your position." - Everett Dirksen.

Today, as the Democrats assume the leadership in the Senate and the House, it is perhaps fitting to remember the legacy of a great Republican U.S. senator, Everett Dirksen, who was born on this day in 1896 in Pekin, Illinois.

Everett Dirksen was the most important Republican leader during the Democratic Kennedy-Johnson years in Washington, serving as Senate minority leader from 1959 to 1969. Known for his stentorian voice (just this side of "gravelly") and florid oratory, Dirksen was long held to be a conservative: he opposed Roosevelt's "New Deal" as a young congressman, and defended Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist Army-McCarthy hearings at the beginning of his Senate career. During his tenure as Senate minority leader, however, Dirksen provided crucial support for major pieces of Kennedy-Johnson legislation, including the Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Dirksen mounted a short-lived campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 1944, withdrawing to support Thomas Dewey. In 1966, he had a spoken-word hit record (which peaked at #29) with "Gallant Men," which won a Grammy for Best Documentary Recording in 1967. Dirksen died while still in office on September 7, 1969. His son-and-law and political protege, Howard Baker, later served as Senate Republican leader.

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