Former Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell passed away in the opening hours of 2009. As a Republican and conservative, there was a policy divide between he and I that stretched the length of Rhode Island but, oddly - and much to the amazement of political allies who visit my office - I proudly display a picture taken of me with the Senator circa 1988.
I was a lobbyist for increased student aid then and he was my greatest friend. The man for whom Pell Grants were named opened the halls of power to a neophyte who was still awed by a city where bumping into the powerful was as common as sneezing. His legacy may very well be in that he opened access to the educational system and afforded opportunity to those who would not have otherwise had it. That was where we met in the middle. I believed - and still do - that the greatest ideals of this nation lie in opportunity to achieve being made available to anyone who would take advantage of it.
The Senator was also a foreign policy expert and, in his later years in the exclusive club, Chaired the Senate's Committee on Foreign Affairs. It was a disappointing culmination of a life dream for him. He was criticized for spreading the committee's power out among sub-committees and for not using the pulpit and the gavel to challenge Republican Presidents Reagan and Bush 41.
Therein lies the point of my thoughts: Claiborne Pell was, perhaps, the last of a dying breed - the brontosaurus in the tar pit or the buffalo on the plains. He was a Democrat to be sure but he was an American first and tried to follow his conscience and to do what he thought right. He was a diplomat and a statesman and always brought class to the fight, whether we agreed with him or not.
The other day, on twitter, I was referred to a post about "sock puppet" attacks on Sarah Palin attempting to paint her supporters as racist and ignorant. I read another piece that spoke to the left's mission to make the word "conservative" equal the worst four letter word that has every crossed the lips of "Joe the Carpenter" as he smashed his thumb with the hammer. These are not people who respect their opponents nor are the combatants who bring class to the debate. They do not believe, as Pell did, that the best interests of the nation dwell at the center of the discussion.
Today's Democrats believe that they must win at all costs, defeat the Republicans once and for all, and create a one Party state that feeds at the tax trough. Not all of today's Democrats subscribe to the mantra, I know, but the modus operandi has become about negativity and about hate and about Bush derangement syndrome. The message is not one of pride in America but rooted in hatred of America - Not a celebration of success but a condemnation of success. They have lost all sense that where bipartisan ideas come from is in a shared belief in opportunity for everyone and have, instead, focused on their own opportunity to solidify power while creating a culture of dependence for America.
Claiborne Pell was an amazingly wealthy son of privilege who believed that others should have the opportunity to rise above. If, on the way up, he believed, they could have the benefit of a helping hand, they could then add to, and further, the greatness of our nation. Once upon a time, his Democrat ideals and my own, born of the "Reagan Revolution" found common ground. That's why I display his picture in my office. May we all endeavour to champion opportunity for everyone. Rest in Peace.