Column: A straight shooter
WASHINGTON -- During the last three decades that I have been covering politics in Washington, there was never a time when I could not reach Chris Dodd to check what was happening. It didn't matter whether the question was about a House race in Connecticut or someone's presidential chances or the prospects of a big bill in the Senate, the answers always came back -- straight, quick and informative.
In all that time, I don't recall ever doing a favor for Dodd. I never wrote a story that flattered him. I never imagined that I had a closer relationship with him than any of my reporter friends and competitors. As far as I can judge, my relationship with Sen. Dodd was no different than that of any other reporter -- except maybe for its length.
So I concluded that my experience with him was simply an aspect of Dodd's character, a willingness to deal straight up with people and their requests and a trust easily extended unless abused.
Obviously, a politician of that character is very appealing to reporters, so I counted myself an admirer of Dodd. But what mattered more to me was what I saw of him on the floor of the Senate.
Whenever I was up there and a vote was pending, Dodd would be buzzing around the Democratic side (and sometimes the Republican side as well) checking their intentions. Many senators are into the game, but few with the passion or intensity that Dodd brings to almost every debate in which he engages.
I think this intensity came from his background, as a meat-and-potatoes, blue-collar Democrat whose loyalties ran strongly toward the working men and women he represented and their unions. Like his friend Ted Kennedy, Dodd enjoyed good whiskey and the company of pretty women, but his uptown tastes never compromised his allegiance to the working-stiffs' Democratic Party in which he was raised.
His causes were the simplest. He could never justify to himself why, in this wealthy country, we should allow children to get sick or die because their families could not afford to buy health insurance.
So he went back to the Senate floor, time after time, year after year, asking his colleagues to bring more children under the government-subsidized programs -- shaming them into doing it or employing whatever rhetorical tactics he needed.
When Dodd speaks, other senators listen. He has the gift of gab, and he has polished it in his many years on Capitol Hill. That is what will be missed most when he retires at the end of this year.
Was this retirement necessary? Republicans (and some outside observers) claim that Dodd would certainly have been defeated had he run for another term in November. I am not so certain of that. A former Republican state chairman in Connecticut long ago told me that he thought Dodd was the best politician, hands down, in the country. He might have found a way to pull it out.
But with Richard Blumenthal, the former Washington Post reporter who has been waiting for years as attorney general of Connecticut for a chance to run for the Senate, some Democrats are relieved at Dodd's decision.
What I know is that the Senate will be a poorer place, in both human and political terms, without Chris Dodd in its membership.
President Obama's response to the failed Christmas bombing plot confirms my belief that this event was a real wake-up call for him. His justified anger that the plot was not discovered in advance by U.S. intelligence drives him to demand better of his associates -- and that is a precondition for better performance all around. Congress and its intelligence committees can usefully step in now to assure that the promised follow-up is really happening.
David Broder's e-mail address is email@example.com.