A tale of 3 politicians guided by character and values
Posted 3/20/18 (Tue)
By Steve Andrist
As politicians go, three men who were top of mind this week were so very different in background and ideology yet so much the same in character.
One of them was a true liberal who was elected to the United States Congress at such a tender age that he had to wait for his next birthday to be old enough to be sworn in.
Another was a highly-educated Red River Valley farmer and community leader who at middle age became a moderately liberal governor of North Dakota, the last Democrat to hold that position in the state.
The third was a self-taught, politically conservative country editor who rose to become a statesman in the North Dakota Senate.
Three distinctly different men brought together in a writer’s mind by the courage of their convictions that accomplishment is more important than political victory and achievement more than credit.
At 75, former Vice President Joe Biden is the only one of the three still living. Saturday, he was in Grand Forks, seemingly giving voice to the other two during a speech that was heavy on values and light on partisan politics.
Sure, his appearance was intended to boost the re-election campaign of fellow Democrat Heidi Heitkamp.
But much of what he had to say must have resonated with former Gov. George “Bud” Sinner, who was laid to rest a day earlier at age 89, and former Sen. John Andrist, who passed in January at age 86.
His speech emphasized doing the right thing over being right, building up people and communities over building up political capital, and working across the aisle over political intransigence.
Those are the values that Sinner and Andrist shared; values that they discussed after former a long-distance friendship they nurtured for a period of time later in their lives.
It started when Democratic Gov. Sinner presented Republican Editor Andrist with the North Dakota Leadership Award of Excellence in recognition of his service as the only North Dakotan to serve as president of the National Newspaper Association.
They weren’t, by any means, bosom buddies, but they developed a mutual respect and admiration through correspondence in which they recognized a shared devotion to values, character and community service.
It was easy to picture the two of them in the vice president’s commentary Saturday.
All three of them were present in the advice Biden described as receiving repeatedly from his father: “Be a man of your word. Without your word, you’re not a man.”
Biden told a story about his encounter as a young congressman with North Carolina Sen. Jesse Helms, an ardent segregationist. Helms was railing against equality for blacks, and Biden was bothered to his core, so much so that he berated Helms to Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield, his floor leader in the Senate.
Mansfield’s response was to show Biden a picture of an impoverished and severely crippled orphan boy who no one, it seems, would adopt.
“Would you believe Jesse and Dot Helms adopted that boy?” Mansfield said. “They did.”
And the life lesson that Biden shared from the story is, “It’s always appropriate to question a person’s judgment. It’s never appropriate to question their motives. Because you don’t know what their motives are.”
There are Bud and John again.
Biden also expressed regret that in American politics today “We’ve gotten to the point where the opposition is the enemy.”
Envision Bud and John saying “amen.”
Lost, it seems, are the relationships that were built on values rather than torn apart by politics. Biden’s example was his relationship with political adversary Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.
“If I called John McCain in the middle of the night and said ‘I need you to go to Bismarck, N.D., with me and I can’t say why,’ he’d get on the plane.”
It seems as though they don’t make politicians like this any more. Certainly Biden, Bud and John had seen and regretted the trend away from disagreeing without being disagreeable.
Just as certainly their character and values would lead them to conclude hope is not lost.
As Biden said it Saturday, “We’ve led the world not by the example of our power, but by the power of our example.”