Every once in a while someone comes along in public service who simply stands out. Someone who makes you feel good about our country, our democracy and the role and responsibility of those we elect to do the actual governing in America. If ever there was such an individual he was embodied in the form of New Hampshire’s former US Sen. Warren B. Rudman.
Rudman passed away yesterday at the age of 82. Warren would likely have said that he had lived a full, rich and vibrant life. That he was blessed to be a public servant and that he was proud and humbled to be part of the national discussion about America’s future and our responsibility quite simply to pay our bills, live within our means and not saddle our children and grandchildren with a mountain of debt.
It is ironic that just after the most divisive presidential campaign in my lifetime, we are all re-visiting the legacy of the former Senator. Rudman by his very nature believed in collaboration, cooperation and bi-partisanship. He was a principled fiscal conservative whose Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Act plan became an early blue print for a national discussion of facing the fact that our national debt was killing us. Later, Rudman teamed up with the late Sen. Paul Tsongas a Massachusetts democrat to form the Concord Coalition. Together they fought for tighter rein on federal spending and traveled almost everywhere with their famous “National Debt Clock” to illustrate in real time the billions and now trillions the government was spending as they implored us to take collective action.
The irony is that while Rudman’s Republican credentials as a fiscal conservative were impeccable and unassailable, he was socially about as middle of the road as you could be. For Warren, the social stuff was deeply personal. He was pro-choice and believed that abortion was an issue best left to women, their doctors and their religious and moral beliefs. He was the very kind of Republican who re-defined the brand and as a result was deeply admired by Republicans and Democrats alike.
I had a chance to work with Rudman on a number of campaigns. He was the perfect guy to step into a general election and let all sides know why one candidate was a better choice than the other. He was there for Judd Gregg, George Bush (after initially supporting Bob Dole for president) and he promoted Bob Smith for the Senate even though he and Smith disagreed on a number of issues. I recorded radio spots with him for countless candidates and shot him to camera in nearly a half dozen television endorsements. In the studio he was a “no headphones” guy. ”Just count me down and hold your hand up when I have 10 seconds left,” he would request. Then in his distinct Rudman baritone he would begin “This is Warren Rudman…” although he really didn’t need to introduce himself. People recognized the face and the voice and when Warren talked, they listened.
In one studio session I presented Rudman with a radio script in which he would endorse George H. W. Bush for President. He read the script, made a number of changes with a red pen and handed it back to me.
”Not your best work Pat” he said. “But let’s go, I’ll make it work.”
He did, in about two takes.
”Let me know what else I can do,” he said after the session.
I looked over the marked up script like a student getting back a mid-term from his favorite professor. At the top of the page he gave my script a letter grade: B- with a note in his distinctive hand scrawled under it: “Always great to work with you, next time write less!”
I still have that script and will keep it always as a reminder of this amazing citizen who served New Hampshire and our country so honorably, so respectfully and with such eloquence and grace. Like I said, they don’t make Warren Rudmans any more and you simply cannot find enough of his kind of patriot in the U.S. Senate. That is a truly a great loss for all of us.