Nearly perpetual senator Patrick Leahy published The Road Taken, his doorstopper of a memoir last fall, and boy is it ever true to the character and career of the man. Straightforward, earnest, circumspect, and, above all, eternally loyal to the institution of the U.S. Senate, which he unironically calls “the conscience of the nation.”
Myself, I’ve never met the institution I could characterize as anyone’s “conscience,” and that includes organized religion. The real consciences of a society are usually the outsiders, not the insiders; the prophets, not the priests or kings. To me, legislative bodies in general, and senior chambers in particular, are less conscience and more granfalloon, defined by Kurt Vonnegut as “a proud and meaningless collection of human beings.” So I approached Leahy’s book with, shall we say, a measure of cynicism.
Still, I can understand his point of view. Leahy entered the Senate at a particular moment in time when it was living up to its billing. He took office mere months after Richard Nixon had resigned the presidency thanks, in no small part, to the urging of three top Congressional Republicans who put the interests of country over party.
Quaint, isn’t it?
The combination of Watergate and the collapse of the Vietnam War placed the Senate at the heart of existential issues about American government. And the Senate responded well — in that moment.
And that was the moment that cemented the fresh-faced Pat Leahy’s affection for the chamber. Well, that and crusty old segregationist John Stennis being nice to him.Continue reading