Most of the obituaries for former Sen. Warren Rudman, R-N.H., who died yesterday at age 82 at a Washington hospital, focus on his prescient efforts back in the 1980s to rein in the federal deficit, when it merely numbered in the hundreds of billions of dollars. He was coauthor of the two pieces of mid-1980s legislation, generally lumped together and called the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings act, that established deficit reduction targets from 1985 to 1990 and mandated painful across-the-board budget cuts if Congress and the president couldn’t agree on what needed to be trimmed. (If that sounds like the granddaddy of the “fiscal cliff” that the government currently is facing, it was.)
Rudman was indeed a deficit hawk — a fiscal prophet who warned, long before it was fashionable, that the government was spending beyond its means. But he was remarkable in plenty other ways as well. The flinty, blunt New Englander was one the last of what today is a virtually extinct species on Capitol Hill: a bipartisan moderate who was more concerned about making government work properly than in scoring political points, who worked willingly with the other side and wasn’t afraid to take on his own party if need be. Here are five facts worth knowing about a great American:
- He was a war hero who hated war. After graduating from Syracuse University, Rudman enlisted in the U.S. Army to fight in the Korean War, in which he served in combat as a company commander and was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. “I learned in Korea that war is a lousy idea,” he later wrote in his book, Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate. Most international conflicts, he came to believe, were avoidable.
- He had let the chips fall where they may. Rudman cochaired the committee that investigated the Iran-Contra scandal, in which Reagan administration officials secretly sold arms to the Iranians in an effort to win the release of Middle East hostages, and then diverted the proceeds to finance a covert war against the socialist regime in Nicaragua, despite a congressional ban on the latter. In 1991, he also served on the committee that probed the Keating Five, a group of senators — including fellow Republican John McCain of Arizona — with ties to corrupt savings and loans.
- For a moderate, he still could be forceful. Rudman, a pro-choice conservative, pushed President George H.W. Bush to nominate fellow Granite State native David Souter to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, knowing that Souter would be reluctant to overturn Roe V. Wade. But according to journalist Bob Woodward’s book Shadow: Five Presidents and the Legacy of Watergate, Souter tried to back out after learning that a newspaper was probing his personal life. He met with Rudman, and told him that he was going to call President Bush and withdraw. Rudman, seeing no other choice, grabbed Souter and physically restrained him for a half hour, until he finally agreed to stay in the running.
- He thought the United States should emulate Great Britain’s governmental system. When Rudman retired from the Senate in 1992, he told the Christian Science Monitor: “I have for a long time started to feel that maybe we ought to change our system and go to a parliamentary system of government, where you have the leader and the Congress all of the same party.”
- He loathed the fancy trappings of political power. During his 12 years in office, Rudman turned down invitations to White House social events on numerous occasions, and resolutely refused to wear a tuxedo. As he once told a reporter for the Washington Post. “If the word ‘senator’ disappeared from in front of my name, my invitations would go from 200 a week to two a year.”
Here’s a clip of Rudman grilling a witness in the Iran-Contra hearings in the late 1980s: