In 1990, former Democratic Speaker of the House Tom Foley advised incoming members of Congress to miss a few floor votes early in their careers. If not, he warned, they might suffer the curse that had befallen 79-year-old, 41-year veteran Rep. Charles E. Bennett of Florida. Although Bennett had won a Silver Star for gallantry in World War II, he then contracted polio and thereafter had to use a cane to get around. Some of his Florida voters thought he might be too frail to serve in Congress. So during his first term, to prove he was not feeble, he left his hospital bed, where he was suffering from pneumonia, so as not to miss a vote.
Soon he was known for this virtue. And he never missed another vote for 40 years. As a result, his career had become a torment -- driving through snowstorms, missing important family moments, and generally disrupting his life. As Foley warned, trying to keep a perfect voting record "is a great sentence of life in prison living in uneasy terror" of missing a vote.
I recount this story of old Washington as a cautionary tale for the benefit of young Sen. Obama. There is a joke going around Washington to the effect that Hillary is the senator from New York who was born in Illinois, while Obama is the senator from Illinois who was born in a manger.
It might seem useful to Obama to run as a saint in this wicked, wicked world. But the trouble with posing as a saint is that one sets oneself up to be judged by exalted saintly standards. And just as not missing even a procedural vote haunted Charles Bennett all the days of his congressional life, so playing the part of a saint will make it politically dangerous for Obama to take those necessary little expedient acts that politicians routinely get away with, but for which aspiring saints get disgraced and banished.
In this regard, at least, Bill Clinton will prove to have been wiser than Obama. Clinton never pretended to be virtuous and thus got away with all manner of ethical breaches. From whom little moral behavior is expected, little will be asked.
But for Obama, already -- and he has not even secured his nomination yet -- three acts of routine political hypocrisy and cynicism threaten to disrupt his self-propelled elevation.
On "Meet the Press" Jan. 22, 2006, Tim Russert and Sen. Obama had the following exchange:
Russert: "When we talked back in November of '04 after your election, I said, 'There's been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your six-year term as United States senator from Illinois?' Obama: 'Absolutely.'"
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.