Jewish World Review August 11, 2003 /13 Menachem-Av 5763

Paul Greenberg

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It was time: Fritz Hollings limits his term

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | For the longest time Fritz Hollings had to be the most senior junior senator in Congress, thanks to Strom Thurmond's longevity. And now that he's finally become the senior senator from that state, he's announced that he won't be running for re-election next year. At a mere 81.

It's like being Prince of Wales, waiting and waiting and waiting, till you finally become king . and then proceed to abdicate. The senator's still got a year and a half to go, but who would have thought that, after all this time, Fritz Hollings would term-limit himself?

Senator Hollings may have been the only member of the U.S. Senate in need of simultaneous translation - thanks to his classic, impenetrable South Carolina accent. His speech might best be described as a combination of lockjaw and a pronounced allergy to the letter R, at least at the end of words. As Mark Twain noted, the educated Southerner has no use for final R's. (The New Englander, on the other hand, tends to add them gratuitously, as during JFK's blockade of Cuber.)

The senator's pronouncements still betray traces of wit. (Announcing his retirement, he reckoned that "it's time I go out and work and make a living.") But over the years, especially at election time, the wit turned bitter and just plain mean.

Let's just say Fritz Hollings is not the most tactful member of the U.S. Senate, which makes him refreshing sometimes and excruciating at others. American diplomats still remember his telling the press about an international summit he attended in Switzerland together with "these potentates from down in Africa." He had to add that, "rather than eating each other, they'd just come up and get a good square meal in Geneva."

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One hopes the senator's retirement plans do not include representing the United States abroad. His sense of humor might be misinterpreted.

If the Confederate emblem went up over the South Carolina statehouse on his watch, and later became a point of constant friction, let this be noted, too:

Fritz Hollings was the governor of South Carolina who led the way to the peaceful integration of Clemson. He did it in his Farewell Address and finest hour, when he warned his fellow South Carolinians in the most unmistakable terms that ours must be a government of laws, not of men.

Alas, his kind of leadership was not uniform in these latitudes. Here in Arkansas, we had Orval E. Faubus as governor, and paid dearly for it.

At one point (1984) Senator Hollings made a brief run for the presidency. He always did look like a president - with his upright posture, white hair and firm jaw. Right up to the moment he opened his mouth.

Wacky or sound, scheming or idealistic, mean or kind, Fritz Hollings remained candid; you could be sure he was saying just what he thought at the time, even if he would have done better just to think it.

Let it be noted that Senator Hollings has done the Republic great service from time to time: He's always advocated a strong national defense, and now he's a champion of security at home. And he's been in the forefront of the fight against media monopolies.

But as the years and decades passed, the senator's usefulness was obscured by a tendency to meander. You never knew where a conversation with him might wind up or if it would. You had to follow closely if you were to avoid being swept away in a sea of incoherence. And not just because of his accent.

Senator Hollings long has been alarmed by growing federal deficits, just as Republican senators were back in the '30s, and, like those Republicans back in the '30s, he can't understand why the rest of the country isn't terribly alarmed, too. (Maybe that's because the rest of the country intuitively understands that high deficits are more a symptom of the economic slows than their cause.)

But the senator's insulation from reality is best illustrated by his dream of an America safe and secure behind a wall of tariffs, a vision that should have gone out with Smoot-Hawley back in the '30s.

There have been too many times of late when Ol' Fritz came across as a Southern-fried combination of Pat Buchanan and Michael Moore - angry old man and wacky zealot. What had once been a keen wit began to resemble just another gaseous emission in the U.S. Senate, where every Polonius thinks he's a Cicero.

But let us end with a salute to his good judgment: Senator Hollings is to be commended for recognizing that it was time to go. Which distinguishes him from Robert Byrd, the very senior senator from West Virginia.

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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