Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In Praise of Charles Goodell

By Gregg Easterbrook

Many knaves and rapscallions have gone to the United States Senate to bask in its glory. Occasionally it is the man who gives glory to the Senate, and Charles Goodell, father of Roger Goodell, was such an exceptional figure.

Charles Goodell accomplished a lot in his short term as a senator.
Charles Goodell was born in 1926 in Jamestown, New York, a small town in the pastoral Southern Tier of New York: people forget that New York State is mainly rural. Beautiful and isolated from the din of the world, Jamestown represented the sort of Brigadoon where a person could still live the small-town American ideal. The most important location near Jamestown is the Chautauqua Institution, a lyceum begun in 1873 as a place intellectuals and artists would retreat for the summer to give lectures and perform, sometimes for huge audiences. Chautauqua stood for the Greek dream of knowledge rather than materialism as the goal of life. That the Chautauqua Institution still exists and still draws thousands each summer to a remote rural lake simply to learn is a wonderful thing -- one of the wonderful things about our country that you never hear about owing to the media taboo against positive news. As a boy growing up in Buffalo in the 1950s and '60s, I was thrilled when I first visited Chautauqua; doubly thrilled last summer when Chautauqua asked me to lecture. (Please, Chautauqua, ask me back; I want to experience the porch of Wensley House, the lakefront lodge where speakers and performers stay and mingle, once again.) These points about Jamestown and its proximity to Chautauqua help position Charles Goodell in cosmic terms. He grew up in a place that represented America at its best, and the lesson was not lost on him.

Charles Goodell served in the Navy during World War II, then finished college, then graduated from Yale Law School in 1951. Rather than start a law career, he enlisted to serve in the Air Force during the Korean War. Afterward Goodell returned to Jamestown and practiced as a small-town storefront lawyer. In 1959 he ran as a Republican for Congress, and won the local seat in the House of Representatives. There he stayed until 1968, becoming known as a conscientious legislator. Among other things, Goodell joined Gerald Ford and a young congressman named Donald Rumsfeld in a bid to make the very conservative Ford the leader of congressional Republicans. In 1968, Robert F. Kennedy was murdered by a man who feared the goodness RFK embodied. New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a Republican, appointed Goodell to complete Kennedy's Senate term.

Charles Goodell spent only 18 months in the Senate, but used his time nobly. Shortly after arriving in the Senate he declared his opposition to the Vietnam War, becoming one of the first national figures to do so openly. Understanding that money is often at the heart of folly, Goodell introduced legislation to cut off funding for military operations in Vietnam.

Endlessly Goodell pointed out that Congress had never declared war on North Vietnam. This was one of the disgraces of American politics during the Vietnam era: not only does the Constitution vest the authority to make war solely with Congress, the rich and comfortable members of the House and Senate were willing to send young men off to die, but too politically timorous to go on record formally declaring hostilities. Whether one could be a conscientious objector to an unjust war, but support a just conflict such as World War II, was a much-discussed question of the Vietnam years; Goodell declared his support for selective objection. Goodell worked to help GIs who were jailed for speaking out against the war, and shamed the Justice Department into moving Rev. Philip Berrigan, a war protester, from the maximum security penitentiary in which he had absurdly been confined. Much of what Goodell did enraged his party. But since he had served his country in two wars, Goodell's opinions could not be dismissed. As a New York state boy keenly following the news of the day, Charles Goodell seemed to me a beacon of honor shining into the darkness -- a manifestation of decency and personal integrity, coupled to willingness to work within the system.

In 1970, Goodell stood for reelection. Many Senate elections fail to offer a single worthwhile candidate. This race offered three who were deserving: Goodell the Republican, a well-qualified Democrat named Richard Ottinger, and James Buckley, brother of the writer William Buckley. James Buckley ran on the Conservative ticket (New York state has both Liberal and Conservative ballot lines) and was backed by factions who were furious regarding Goodell's antiwar stance. This race was the first political cause in which I got involved, a 17-year-old boy spending my spare time in the summer and fall of 1970 distributing leaflets, cold-calling voters and putting up posters. The posters were a little deceptive. Many read, CHARLES GOODELL, 44 PIECES OF MAJOR LEGISLATION IN 18 MONTHS. The number of bills a legislator drops into the hopper is largely irrelevant; in theory a senator could propose a thousand pieces of legislation a day. But the posters captured Goodell's spirit. At a time when most members of the Senate were hiding behind their office doors and refusing to face the big questions of Vietnam, Goodell spoke his conscience, and did so knowing he'd be ostracized.

Goodell and the Democratic candidate split the progressive vote, handing the 1970 election to Buckley, who himself served well, though of course to very different ends. After losing the election, Goodell wrote a history titled "Political Prisoners in America," which examined the status of the political prisoner from the 18th century forward, and argued that democracies often use national security threats in order to stifle dissent. The book warns that not even America is safe from the suppression of legitimate dissent. After the book's publication Gerald Ford, by then President Ford, named Goodell chairman of a national commission to hear appeals for clemency from Vietnam draft resistors. Later Goodell returned to the practice of law and lived quietly in Washington until he died, young, in 1987. I can remember with perfect clarity knocking on doors in 1970, a 17-year-old boy trying to explain to adults why they should vote for this man. How I wish there was a Charles Goodell in American politics today.

Emphasis mine.

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At 5:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there IS a 'Charles Goodell' in politics today, if by that you mean a candidate who will prevent -- or try to prevent -- a liberal Democrat from being elected. Today's Goodell is Lieberman of course, and he'll provide an obstacle to Lamont as Goodell did to Ottinger. If Goodell had had the grace to remove himself, NY could have had an ethical, hard-working liberal senator in Richard Ottinger, a co-founder of the Peace Corps and one of the first serious environmentalists. Goodell was alas too narcissistic to accept that his candidacy was dangerous to the causes he purported to espouse.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger Stash said...

Goodell was speaking against the Administration that was trying to stay the failed course.

Lieberman is kissing up to the Administration that lied us into this debacle and is bent on staying the failed course.


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