No wonder so many of us in Arkansas came to like and admire our former governor, senator and public resource in general -- agree or disagree with him from time to time. His diaries, even if disputed for now by his much too respectable family, show a man in full, and the portrait is refreshing. Especially in this era of blow-dried, bloviating, deadly dull politicos.
In his diaries, good old Dale Bumpers lets loose on the Clintons, the epitome of self-centered and single-minded careerists, and on a number of other contemporary topics back in his heyday. From the usual plague of wordy politicians to airhead beauty queens. That the man shares many of my own most cherished opinions/prejudices only endears him to me more.
OK, he couldn't call them all right. He dismissed Ronald Reagan, the most effective and successful American president, leader and master of change since Franklin Roosevelt as "without question the biggest charlatan and troglodyte this country has ever elected."
Dale Bumpers wasn't alone in that monumental misjudgment; a trusted aide and long-time crony of the hapless Jimmy Carter had early on shrugged off Reagan as just "an amiable dunce." Amiable he certainly was, as amiable as FDR himself, but dunce? Oh, how the country could use another such "dunce" just now. For leadership, like character, makes all the difference in a country's politics, even fate.
Dale Bumpers gave up on Ronald Reagan too soon -- at the low point of his presidency and popularity. The senator lacked the patience and percipience to realize that the 40th president of the United States was just giving the new and dramatic policies he had begun time to work.
It's no simple job to turn a great ship like the U.S.S. United States around -- by some 180 degrees. How strange: It was the supposedly superficial Reagan who was being patient, and the statesmanlike Bumpers who was throwing around hasty judgments. Sen. Bumpers just may not have had enough faith to believe, as Bismarck once put it, that God looks after fools, drunkards and the United States of America.
For example, Dale Bumpers joined many others in fearing that Reagan's dream of Star Wars weaponry, now a daily reality, would lead to a worldwide holocaust; he didn't realize that it would actually oblige the Soviets to spend themselves into bankruptcy by trying to build their own anti-missile missile defense system. And that Reagan's new foreign and defense policy would mean the end of the Soviet Union and therefore the end of the Cold War with it -- and a new birth of freedom in the world. Especially for the once captive nations of the old Soviet Union.
Only now is a new tsar, Vladimir Putin, slipping the chains back on Russia and its neighbors as he restores the old Russian empire -- with the compliance of the current, impotent American administration. Even as Barack Obama is proving as much a failure as president as Jimmy Carter did.
Sen. Bumpers also shared some of my own favorite political ideas, however impolitic it would be to express them. For example, that most veterans should be treated with no special consideration under the law, mainly because it is an honor and privilege to serve in uniform. Or as the senator put it, "I can't understand why veterans, other than those who are actually disabled in combat, should receive preferential treatment. All people in need deserve consideration, but a veteran no more than anybody else."
Of course there are some exceptions to Sen. Bumpers' salutary a rule. The GI Bill of Rights, for example, is an historic example of both simple justice and an investment in education that benefitted not only the vets but the American economy and future in general. Giving veterans preference in government hiring would seem only right, too -- a recognition of how much time they invested in defending the country while they could have been furthering their own careers.
And here is the senator on us inky wretches of the press in general, and once again he's on point: When some damfool of a teevee type from New York City asked him why he wanted to be president, here is how he summed up his hasty reply: "I uttered some inanity in response but what I should have said is that the question is the very epitome of what is wrong with this country: something I've agonized over for a year, they want an answer to in 25 seconds or less."
Neither the H.L. Menckens nor the William Allen Whites, those two wholly different American newspapermen, characterize the American press today or ever did. But the people of Arkansas can be grateful that at least Dale Bumpers gave us an idea of how a thoughtful, courageous American leader sounds, occasional mistaken judgments and all. In short, his candor has earned his country's gratitude -- and respect.