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Jewish World Review / Nov. 2, 1998 /12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg Farewell to all that

THAT WAS A SPLENDID VALEDICTORY Dale Bumpers delivered on the Senate floor. It was the Last Hurrah, doubtless the first of many, from Arkansas' senior senator and champion stump speaker. OK, he may have viewed the history of the world mainly as a backdrop for his own experiences. But that's what Last Hurrahs are supposed to do.

And if on this occasion the gentleman from Arkansas demonstrated an ego only a little bigger than all outdoors, his farewell address also had wit and charm and a flair that one rarely finds even among Southern senators in this empty new age. Younger senators seem to have adopted a style that might be called Contemporary Bland. It was a delight to watch him.

The senior senator from Arkansas also had the good taste, and prudence, not to dwell on any great role he might have played in foreign affairs, especially his strenuous opposition to the development of this country's strategic arsenal. Some of us will never forget the time (1984) when he warned that the re-election of Ronald Reagan might mean, literally, the end of the world. That speech went over big at Columbia University, if nowhere else.

The arms buildup that Dale Bumpers decried would in the end hasten the end of the Soviet Union, and therefore of the Cold War, and therefore of the pervasive nuclear threat that once hung over the world. It was Ronald Reagan -- and George Schultz and Caspar Weinberger -- who turned out to be the real champions of peace. Even now, the American economy is thriving largely on the peace dividend that the end of the Cold War made possible.

But the function of a valedictory is not to review one's mistakes -- would that it were! Imagine the educational possibilities. -- but to cover those mistakes with a few self-deprecating stories. Like lace curtains on a shanty. And within the limitations of the genre, Dale Bumpers did better than most, for his speeches always have a certain flair. And if the humility is a bit feigned, even theatrical, it's still there. Unlike other senators, he at least remembers to appear humble.

Dale Bumpers' oratory may have a dated, reflexive sound by now, but his personal integrity and occasional displays of courage command respect. Integrity and courage are not such common virtues that they should be taken for granted, certainly not in the Age of Clinton. And with a mod candidate like Blanche Lincoln in the offing as the next senator from Arkansas, all bright favored to be the next senator from Arkansas -- she's all a-twitter with a whole new supply of poll-tested cliches -- one suspects that many of us are going to miss Dale Bumpers more than we ever suspected.

With the de-evolution of standards, the perfectly respectable senator of one era can seem a giant to the next. The age of the Robert Tafts and Hubert Humphreys seems classical by now, and they were ordinary leaders when compared to Clay, Webster and Calhoun.

So let us bask in Dale Bumpers' last hurrah while we can, before his stemwinders give way to the verbalized smiles of the next generation. For not only is Dale Bumpers leaving the Senate, but one fears he may be taking oratory with him.

What a pity that the senator chose to include a half-hearted defense of the Clinton Scandals toward the end of his performance. Well, it wasn't so much a defense of this administration as an attack on those who have exposed it. Clinton apologists learned long ago that the best defense is an offense, and this one was particularly offensive because it was presented as a defense of Arkansas -- rather than of the president who has disgraced this state. Here, see what you think of the senator's logic:

"Our state does not deserve to have been torn apart for the past six years. I know so many innocent people who have been destroyed, financially and mentally, by a criminal justice system gone awry. You would have go back to the Salem witch trials to find anything comparable. ...''

The Salem witch trials? Not even McCarthyism? Not even the Alien and Sedition Acts? And, of course, the cause of it all is not the president who disgraced his office and his state, and who involved so many innocent people in his lies, but "the criminal justice system'' that found him out.

And then our senior senator had to add this: "But most of us take pride in President Clinton's presidency. And the American people are still saying they like him.'' Who would have thought that, of all the politicians in this state, or in the United States Senate, an independent thinker like Dale Bumpers would confuse the voice of the polls with the voice of the people? Or end his career relying on the latest poll results.

How completely Bill Clinton has managed to hollow out the moral and ethical standards of his party is never so clear as when a good man like Dale Bumpers is reduced to waving the state flag, blaming this whole mess on the prosecutors and, finally, citing public opinion polls.

Here's a senator who always seemed perfectly capable of seeing through Bill Clinton, even if he never said anything out loud, and who now, at the end of a distinguished tenure, manages to sound like just another party hack.

Never underestimate the corrosive influence of our poll-produced president, not when he can reduce the Senate's best stump speaker to this sort of thing. Dale Bumpers may not be a Robert Byrd in his prime, and he's certainly not a Daniel Patrick Moynihan as a thinker, but the good senator is a lot better than this gratuitous bow to a deeply shallow president makes him sound.

What a pity Dale Bumpers' fine valedictory had to be marred by the usual Clinton apologetics. What a pity that, in his last speech on the Senate floor, Dale Bumpers could not have taken his stand instead with a voice of conscience like Joe Lieberman -- the senator from Connecticut who would not let his Democratic partisanship blind him to just what Bill Clinton has wrought. Men are known in history by what they choose not to say, too. Silence still gives consent.

Yes, what a pity Dale Bumpers did not raise his valedictory to a higher level than mere showmanship, instead of just echoing the party line. Then his last hurrah would have been more than entertaining. It would have been educational. It would have been elevating. And it would have spoken so well of Arkansas.


10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate