When we heard that California’s Don Edwards, one of the great former congressmen of our lifetimes, had died last week, we were struck by how few men and women there are in politics today who measure up to the standard set by a man who dedicated his life to equal rights, civil liberties and common decency.
If, as we do, you divide politicians into two camps – those who want to do good and those who want to do well – Edwards, a former FBI agent and championship golfer who later crafted every civil rights bill in the House for two decades, was surely a bright light in the former camp.
Among those running for president, is there even one candidate about whom one could make that assertion with a straight face?
Carly Fiorina, for example, lying about her phony secretary-to-CEO history, her disastrous tenure at Hewlett Packard and a non-existent Planned Parenthood video of a fetus, seems all the more disgusting and pathetic in light of the profoundly honorable career Edwards personified.
Donald Trump’s natavistic narcicissism and Hillary Clinton’s poll-driven “spontaneity” seem so coarse, so shallow and unworthy compared to Edwards’ lifelong commitment to peace and freedom.
On the national scene right now, only Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Professor Irwin Corey of the Democratic Party, shows signs of Edwards-like integrity.
Here’s a snippet from the excellent NYT obit:
Mr. Edwards, an F.B.I. agent in the 1940s, was also an early opponent of the Vietnam War and a champion of civil liberties who took on the F.B.I. on domestic surveillance and budget issues.
He entered Congress in 1963, in time to vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After becoming chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on civil and constitutional rights, he managed the Equal Rights Amendment on the House floor in 1971 and was the floor manager for all other civil rights bills.
Effective at working with Republicans, among them Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York, he was the chief House architect on civil rights bills through the 1991 law that overturned eight Supreme Court decisions narrowly interpreting the employment rights of women and minorities.
Given the cast of characters seeking high office in California and the country and the belief, especially among Republicans, that compromise is capitulation, it’s difficult even to imagine a leader like Edwards who believed it’s possible to maintain one’s principles and integrity and actually govern.