Robert Knight

Michael Schwartz, a great man who passed this earth on Feb. 3 at age 63, was an anomaly.

An Irish Catholic from the Duffy family, circumstances gave him a last name that suggested a different heritage. He was so smart and good at telling jokes that a lot of people were stunned to find out he wasn’t Jewish.

Mike had a soft heart, but was also a tough guy from South Philly who exulted in Philadelphia’s reputation for having the country’s “worst, most abusive fans.” He reveled in the fact that Eagles enthusiasts had thrown snowballs at Santa Claus. When it came to sports, though, he was a Phillies fan all the way.

Mike spent much of his career in Washington and yet was anything but an inside-the-Beltway type. He shunned fame, dispensing ideas to anyone who could give them currency. Mike was a mentor and strategist for the pro-life and pro-family movements before, during and after his stints as chief of staff for Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Coburn and then with Sen. Coburn.

Losing his courageous, two-year battle against Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS), Mike stepped down last November on a day when Sen. Coburn gave him a moving tribute on the Senate floor.

“He is one of the kindest, gentlest people anyone has ever met,” Coburn said. “He has been a light focused on how we do things to honor other people.”

Mike possessed enormous passion. He’d suddenly blaze with anger over lies told by politicians or wrongs done to the poor, widows, the infirm, the elderly, immigrants or unborn children. A lifelong Democrat until only recently, he’d rail against “liberals” and their tax-hungry schemes to perpetuate a dependent underclass. Then, he’d go back to his calm demeanor. The more I got to know Mike, the more I understood Irish poetry.

When I came to Washington years ago to head the Heritage Foundation’s Cultural Policy Studies program, Mike was working for Paul Weyrich at the Free Congress Foundation. He was curious to see who would be handling cultural issues for Heritage.

Having recently escaped the Los Angeles Times newsroom for a fellowship at the Hoover Institution, I was full of libertarian enthusiasm for cutting Washington down to size. I still want to do that, but Mike’s visit changed my outlook.

“You say you’re a libertarian?” he asked with a smile. “Okay, I’m for reducing government. It’s out of control. They spend like drunks. But let me ask you something. Do you favor abortion? Pornography? Gay rights? Do you think marriage is important? Why do you think the government is so big?”

Robert Knight

Robert Knight is an author, senior fellow for the American Civil Rights Union and a frequent contributor to Townhall.