Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Daniel Inouye

During the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973, the attorney
for H.R. Haldeman called Daniel Inouye "that little Jap."

When I think of Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, who died yesterday at the age of 88, I think of his soft–spoken dignity during the 1973 Senate Watergate hearings.

As Emma Brown observed in a Washington Post obituary, Inouye "rarely sought the media spotlight" in more than half a century of service in Congress. That seemed especially true during the days of Watergate,

In an age when bipartisanship is a popular buzzword, though, Inouye's absence is likely to be felt. He didn't just give lip service to such concepts, he lived them.

I didn't grow up in Hawaii, where Inouye was a well–known figure before Hawaii became a state in 1959. If I had, I would know more about his life than I do. But I still know quite a bit about him.

He served with distinction in World War II and was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Clinton. He was a member of Hawaii's first congressional delegation as its representative in the House, and he became a senator in 1963. Only Robert Byrd of West Virginia served in the Senate longer.

When Byrd died in 2010, Inouye, by virtue of being the most senior member of the majority party in the Senate became its president pro tempore, a title he held until his death. Constitutionally, that made him third in the line of presidential succession behind the vice president and the House speaker.

Most of what I know about Inouye I learned from watching the Senate Watergate hearings in 1973. As a Democrat investigating the campaign activities of a Republican president and his staff, Inouye may have felt additional pressure to be fair, but my impression was that it was a genuine aspect of his personality.

Anyway, there were times when the testimony of the president's men offended him, and it showed. Another thing that showed was his eagerness to see the best in people.

"You are a wise man," I remember Inouye saying comfortingly to Watergate burglar Bernard Barker.

"If I were a wise man," Barker replied, "I probably would not be sitting here right now."

Inouye was the last surviving Democrat from the Senate Watergate Committee. Two Republican members survive him — Howard Baker of Tennessee and Lowell Weicker of Connecticut.

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