Goodbye (sniff) St. Bob

Posted: Oct 04, 2002 12:00 AM
O what a hero we have lost this day! What a patriot! What a self-denying battler for noble causes! But don't take my word for it, read it yourself in New Jersey Sen. Bob Torricelli's withdrawal announcement. Embark with him on the emotional journey back to his first political race. Chuckle as he recalls that his mother put him on the ballot for county committeeman when he was a mere college tyke -- and revel in how he won "two to nothing." Our knight is modest and self-deprecatory. Not for Bob Torricelli the selfish pursuit of riches. No, he cared too much about other people. "I have witnessed friends build families and businesses, sometimes fortunes, and I never had any regret." It was that love of the people, and not ambition, that propelled him to "get here first ... leave last" when he got an internship in the governor's office. Yes, and he told the governor just that, explaining, "I'm going to do good things." It was the same when, traveling with then-Vice President Walter Mondale, he met Egypt's President Sadat, and proclaimed, "I'm going to be a member of the United States Congress." It sends a chill down your spine, does it not? He achieved his goal and "fought" tirelessly for things he believes in. Not only that, but he doesn't ask for credit. "I think about the trophies of my life with a great and quiet satisfaction. ... If you actually seek more than satisfaction for yourself in the things you achieve, you will always be frustrated." Well, perhaps the Torch's satisfaction isn't all that "quiet." He elaborated: "Somewhere today in one of the several hospitals in New Jersey, some woman's life is going to be changed because of the mammography centers that I created for thousands of women. ... Some child in Bergen County will play in a park that I funded, in land that I saved. Somewhere all over New Jersey, some senior citizen who doesn't even know my name and nothing about what we're doing today will live in a senior center that I helped to build." That's what we need to remember -- that St. Bob "fought" to spend other people's money (ours) on projects he thought worthy. Let's not dwell on smaller matters. Let's not recall, for example, that in a meeting with Muslim extremists, Torricelli said that "America has little to teach and much to learn." Or his grandstanding stunt in 1997 when he proclaimed that his sensitivity to ethnic profiling began in his youth when he watched Sen. Estes Kefauver's senate committee traffic in Italian-American stereotypes: "It is among the first memories I have of government of the United States, and probably the first hearing of the United States Senate I ever witnessed. It was only a flickering television screen, but I will never forget it, and even if I tried, my family would never allow me." Turns out that little St. Bob was 5 days old when the Kefauver hearings ended. What more evidence of precocious political sensitivity do people need? Above all, we must not be distracted by the senator's receipt of an $8,100 Rolex watch, a $4,000 grandfather clock, 12 handmade Italian suits, a stereo, a big-screen TV, three sets of diamond earrings and $53,700 in illegal campaign contributions from a favor-seeking businessman -- nor the rebuke from the Senate Ethics Committee. We mustn't even consider the 2001 surveillance tape from a convenience store that caught the Torch meeting with a solid-waste contractor and David Chang, his Rolex benefactor. Don't most sensitive senators hold meetings at 7-Eleven? No, the nation has lost an irreplaceable man. Well, that is, except on the New Jersey ballot, where -- Torricelli and the Democrats insist -- he is eminently replaceable. A tame New Jersey Supreme Court has permitted this sleight of hand, despite the clear wording of the law that forbids it. Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., assures us that this switch in time is the only way to assure New Jersey voters of a choice. But it was Torricelli who denied them the Torricelli/Forrester choice, wasn't it? Presumably, the New Jersey Supreme Court will approve if Forrester drops in the polls and then pulls out in favor of someone else. In his farewell address, Torricelli apologized to Bill Clinton, saying, "I did not have his strength." Maybe not. But he had his morals.