Sen. Henry M. Jackson was, by far, the most decent, most professional and most idealistic man I have known in American political life. In a unique way, these traits intertwined to create an American legislative giant whose legacy here and around the world may well surpass that of many who held our presidency--the job he trained for, and deserved.
He was so unpompous it was almost laughable. "Carrying your own bag" became a political symbol in 1976. Candidate Jimmy Carter was regularly photographed leaving a plane carrying his own garment sack--his way of saying, "Well, here's a man who would not be an 'imperial' president." Scoop not only carried his own bag: I remember bizarre scenes during the 1972 presidential campaign, coming off little chartered planes late at night with no press in attendance, when staff aides had to be quick and physically prevent the senator from carrying their bags as well as his own.
He was so unphony, it could be politically painful. He was a religious man. It was pointed out to him that it would be helpful to allude to that in his campaign speeches. No, he said, that's private.
He never took a dime for a speech. The money went directly, and quietly, to a scholarship fund.
In the 1976 campaign he was advised to borrow money personally to keep the campaign alive; it was what other candidates were doing when federal matching funds were snarled by a legal battle. Jackson refused. It was likely that the money would be repaid, but not certain. Jackson wouldn't do it even though it meant dooming his chance for the presidency. "I'm not a wealthy man," he said, "I've got a wife and young children. Suppose something happens to me? I'm not going to risk their future by going into debt."
He cared deeply about his staff and their problems. More than one of them regarded him as a father.
There are many decent men in the world, but Henry Jackson's personal decency had a political dimension. It ended up writ large on the international scene.
Those who didn't know him, or where he came from, called him a "cold warrior" and a "hawk" and thought him obsessed with weaponry.
He was, in fact, an idealist. Jackson was obsessed all right--about indecency. He had fought fascists--the Silver Shirts--back when he was a young prosecutor in Washington state in the late 1930s. He was with the American forces that liberated Buchenwald. He loathed totalitarianism-- of right and left--because it was indecent. He was not surprised that the Soviets were capable of shooting down a civilian airliner.
And so it came to pass that this man--who some thought cared mostly about military hardware--became the father of the human rights movement.
There are arguments pro and arguments con about the specific efficacy of the Jackson Amendment, which stipulated that America would not grant trade benefits to nations that did not allow free emigration.
But when all is said and done, when all the charges and countercharges are set aside, two facts remain. Several hundred thousand people --Jews and non-Jews--were able to emigrate from the Soviet Union because of the Jackson Amendment. And the United States went on record as saying human rights mattered. We were prepared to reward those who were moving toward human rights and punish those who were not.
In 1975, I visited Andrei Sakharov at his dacha outside of Moscow. The Jackson Amendment was controversial then, as now. I asked him what he thought about it. "Jackson knows how to make things happen," he said. "He is our champion."
The bedrock premise of the Jackson Amendment has energized much of American foreign policy ever since--for the better. We Americans said, finally: we care about decency.
Scoop cared enough about what his politics meant to become a consummate professional politician. He never lost touch with the voters back home in Washington state. He raised plenty of money, and raised it early. He campaigned for Democrats all over the country, including those whose politics did not always appeal to him. He knew that you couldn't get help unless you gave help.
He was elected to the Senate in 1952 with 56 percent of the vote. That was too close. In the next five elections he averaged 72 percent of the vote. One year he got 82 percent. He rather liked that one.
Jackson's decency drove his idealism. His professionalism bolstered his idealism. He ended up at a unique spot in the firmament of American, and global, politics. He was a liberal on domestic affairs; he knew that government could do decent things at home. And he was the man who understood that we had to be strong if we were to promote the values of decency around the world. That's why he cared so much about strategic arms and defense.
It is the tragedy of recent American politics that such a position combining domestic and international decency--which is at the essence of what most Americans believe--has had such a difficult time finding a home in Scoop's party, let alone the other party.
The battle is not over, however. There are millions of people out there who believe in what Scoop believed. They call themselves Jackson Democrats.