When the announcement came last week that former Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire had died at the age of 90, I thought of the old days and what the senate used to be--a place of giants, like Lyndon Johnson, Everett Dirksen, Hubert Humphrey, Robert Taft.
Even the demagogues like Joe McCarthy were somehow larger than life. And, oh, what characters they were!
Not so in today's money driven politics. Yesterday's giants have been replaced mostly by good, but smaller men. On the one hand, there are those who have made a science of non-stop fundraising. On the other, there are the rich people who have tired of giving to charity and have decided instead to give themselves--a pity, really, their money did so much good.
Of all the characters who strode the senate floor, William Proxmire was the oddest one I ever knew. Long before jogging was in vogue, he ran to work, ten miles every day. He was a vain fellow, among the first to get a face lift and hair transplants, but he never hid it, just showed up for work, plugs in full view.
Even odder, he thought taxpayers sent him to Washington to stop spending on stupid stuff, and he saved us a bundle in his relentless quest to track down waste.
And then there was that other quirk, He refused to accept campaign contributions. Let me repeat: He refused to accept campaign contributions. And in 32 years in the Senate, he never spent more than 200 dollars on a campaign, and most of that went to buy stamps to return contributions people had sent him.
I know, I know. Yesterday always looks better than it probably was. But I believe politics was a lot better when we had more characters like Bill Proxmire.