published Friday, June 27th, 2014

America — and especially Congress — needs more like Howard Baker

Tennessee and the nation lost a political legend Thursday when Howard Baker died at age 88.

He was known as "the Great Conciliator" -- and today's Congress could use more lawmakers of his ilk.

The Congress he prodded for 18 years to keep talking, working, cooperating and accomplishing things now seems in shambles, with members preoccupied with personal attacks and filled with partisan rancor.

Most Americans know Howard H. Baker Jr. for his Watergate-era question: "What did the president know, and when did he know it?"

Baker served as vice chairman, and thus leading Republican, on the Senate Committee probing the June 1972 break-in at the Democratic headquarters and ensuing cover-up by the Nixon administration. When it ended, he called the Watergate scandal "the greatest disillusionment" of his political career.

"I believed that it was a political ploy of the Democrats, that it would come to nothing," Baker said in a 1992 interview with The Associated Press. "But a few weeks into that, it began to dawn on me that there was more to it than I thought, and more to it than I liked."

But Baker, a Huntsville, Tenn., native, was a pragmatist who "could make politics work" during a crisis. He became an adviser to Presidents Reagan and Bush, a White House chief of staff, an ambassador to Japan and a presidential candidate. One biographer, J. Lee Annis, called Baker unique among politicians because he was prone to action rather than posturing.

Would that he could be in Washington today.

But even Baker, who served eight presidents, thought Congress had moved beyond reasonable limits of civility nearly a decade ago.

In 2005, when he returned to Tennessee after a stint as ambassador to Japan, Baker told the Knoxville News Sentinel that Congress could stand a bit of his advice on courtesy and respect.

"I think politics have changed, and we are more divisive today," Baker said. "There is common lack of civility in Congress and politics and the public arena."

In 2007, he said politics had become so uncivil it was hurting government: "I think politics has gotten so mean, so rash, so accusatory, that it's having a corrosive effect on the system of government," he said during the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting.

Baker also knew -- really knew -- the value of inclusiveness, diversity and "big-tent" politics.

It wasn't an accident that he became first elected Republican senator from Tennessee since Reconstruction. In 1966, as a young lawyer and U.S. Senate candidate, he rode a Greyhound bus around the state every day but Sunday, stopping in Morristown, Memphis and everywhere in between. Beyond that, he did something unusual for a white Southerner in the 1960s: He opened headquarters in black areas of the state's largest cities and started campaign organizations at 80 percent of the state's colleges.

He lived by what he calls his Baker's Dozen, a list of life rules that included: listen more than you speak; have a genuine respect for differing points of view; tell the truth, whether you have to or not; be patient; and be civil.

It was Baker, along with fellow former Senate Majority Leaders Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, and George Mitchell, who founded the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., in 2007 as a think tank to develop policies suitable for bipartisan support. And it was Baker who became an advisory board member for the bipartisan Partnership for a Secure America, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to recreating the bipartisan center in American national security and foreign policy.

At the University of Tennessee's Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, set up in 2003 to honor him, students have a nonpartisan institute devoted to education and research concerning public policy and civic engagement.

Howard H. Baker Jr. was a great statesman.

Let us hope his spirit will imbue a few more just like him.

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timbo said...

Sohn is right in one sense. The democrats need a Howard Baker.

Baker looked over partisanship during Watergate and saw that someone he supported had done wrong. He investigated Watergate and his party like someone in the democrat party should investigate Benghazi, IRS, and the VA.

Watergate was a pin prick compared to the IRS problems. Democrats in congress and on this page are defending the fact that these e-mails conveniently disappeared. Everyone with an IQ of 60 knows that. The fact that they are defending and stonewalling is absolutely a testament to their dishonesty and rabid partisanship.

If the press had been Republican leaning and Nixon had destroyed the tapes, like the IRS has done with these e-mails and the press is democrat now, there would not have been a Watergate. The only lesson the democrats learned from all the Watergate trouble was that "he should have burned them damn tapes." The lack of integrity and honesty in the democrat party and the media is breathtaking.

What all these people don't get is that this won't be ignored away. These things are always found out. Someone will break, an e-mail will be found, or someone will make a deal and talk. When that happens the democrat party will be set back 15 years.

The democrat party better get on the right side of this and rebuke Obama. If they don't, they will continue to grow and grow into the sad joke that conservatives have always thought.

Is protecting a terrible president like Obama worth all that?

June 27, 2014 at 8:16 a.m.
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