Today was the end of an era. Ted Stevens took the floor in the U.S. Senate for the last time. The first time was in 1968, before most Alaskans were born.
He actually did get voted out of office, but it took seven felony convictions, a strong centrist Democratic challenger, and an Alaskan Independence Party candidate endorsed by Ron Paul to do it. This is a good thing, because my only options had he won were wearing a bag on my head, or moving to Canada.
Last night, in downtown Anchorage, at the Snow City Cafe, Mark Begich celebrated his very belated victory with supporters. How could it have possibly taken this long? How could the race have been so close?
Listen to Ted Stevens’ farewell address.
As an Alaskan, albeit a left-leaning one, there have been times, I’ve actually felt sorry for Stevens. As I listened to him recount his experiences taking Alaska from a fledgling state with little infrastructure, to where it is today, with a highway system, hospitals, airports, and other things that improve the quality of life here, I had a moment of sadness. What a way to end his career. What a stupid mistake. What a shame.
Lost in this flickering moment of nostalgia, watching this old, beaten man, I heard the words “radical environmentalists” come out of his mouth. I immediately snapped out of it, feeling like I’d been hit in the face with a wet fish. I suddenly remembered what it is I can’t stand about this guy.
Then, as he finished up and yielded the floor for the last time, his Senate colleagues did something I have never seen. The violated Senate protocol and gave the man a standing ovation, for almost a full minute. That’s right United States Senators from across the nation, rose to their feet, and applauded a man who is stepping down, not because he is voluntarily handing the reins to a new generation, but because his seven felony convictions blew the election for him.
It was like watching the villagers cheering for the head on the pike.
The Stevens love-fest went on for some time, with contributions from both sides of the aisle.
“May all the roads that you have built, Ted, rise up to meet you,” said [Sen. Robert] Byrd in a variation of the Irish proverb. Byrd, 91, whose age has made him prone to outbursts on the Senate floor, shouted out “Amen, Amen!” while Stevens’ friend, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, spoke.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, described the close across-the-aisle friendship his own wife and Stevens’ wife have. Sometimes, Lieberman said, people forget that senators are “normal people” with ordinary homes and lives in Washington.
During the tribute, Stevens’ wife, Catherine, and his daughter Beth sat in the front row of the upper gallery of the Senate, surrounded by nearly 100 friends and staffers. Dozens more crowded in the seats lining the Senate chambers.
As Stevens concluded his remarks, many in the Senate gallery and all of the senators and aides on the floor of the Senate offered a standing ovation. Many of his staffers and friends walked out of the Senate chambers with red-rimmed eyes, dabbing at their tears.
While they applauded, Stevens sat. Then he stood, shaking hands with the longest-serving U.S. senator in history, Byrd, and the top two leaders of the Senate, Reid and McConnell. Finally, Stevens embraced Inouye, a man he called “his brother” during his speech.
“The Bible tells us, the Old Testament, two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor, for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow,” said Reid, the Senate majority leader, referring to the friendship between the two men from the 49th and 50th states.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, after the Bible quote, called Stevens a “lion” of the senate.
Is this the same Harry Reid that called for Stevens to step down and promised that if he were elected, and returned to the Senate, his colleagues would vote to expel him?
I’ve given up trying to figure out what kind of magic Ted Stevens has. It’s like that old radio show….The Shadow. It’s like Stevens has “traveled to the Orient and learned the secrets of clouding men’s minds.” But I do feel better that it isn’t just Alaskans that have this cloud problem. I just watched the majority of the United States Senate give a standing ovation to a convicted felon.
Why? Only the Shadow knows……