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Senator Sarbanes: Low-key competence

By Marion Edwyn Harrison
web posted March 28, 2005

Sarbanes jokes with his wife Christina about a list of things she has for him to do after announcing his retirement earlier this month
Sarbanes jokes with his wife Christina about a list of things she has for him to do after announcing his retirement earlier this month

Senator Paul Spyros Sarbanes, Democrat, Maryland, is commendably unusual, although not unique -- a quiet (by Senatorial standards), behind-the-scenes, low-key, effective legislator, dedicated to results above headlines. Because he and I do not know one another I have no hesitancy in writing favorably about his career. Because I agree with him on few important issues -- maybe none at all except mass transit -- I at least get an "A" for objectivity.

Of course, we have met but he is not a Senator who actually knows me. That observation may reveal a lot about life in Washington. This town is overstocked with folk who honestly think, or know better but want others to think, that somebody knows them when, in fact, often it's strictly a one-way street.

Senator Sarbanes might not win -- maybe not approach winning -- a hale-fellow-well-met contest among his fellow Senators. However, he gets respect and gets things done. He is nothing if not bright -- and educated, B.A., Princeton; B.A., Oxford (as a Rhodes Scholar); LL.B., Harvard. He also is experienced, and in a useful sort of way -- law clerk to a distinguished federal appellate judge, six years in Baltimore serious private law practice, one year as Administrative Assistant to the Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, one year as Executive Director of the Charter Revision Commission (Baltimore), two elected terms (four years) in the Maryland House of Delegates, two elected terms (four years) as Representative in Congress from Maryland, five elected terms (30 years) as United States Senator from Maryland.

Senator Sarbanes, who turned 72 years of age last month, has announced his retirement -- maybe young, in view of his mind and health, yet after 30 years of able senatorial service, a generous retirement and the likelihood of more years of a Republican senatorial majority, he surely has a rationale to support his decision. The Washington Post , our Capitol City's voice to and for the leftwing, naturally wrote well of Sarbanes but could not resist claiming, for all his effectiveness, that no major legislation -- unless one wants to term the Sarbanes-Oxley Act major, as this writer would -- bears his name. That criterion, of course, is nothing more than a media benchmark. Effective, and often necessarily quiet, legislative input is the meaningful criterion. No informed person would deny Sarbanes has been quietly effective.

From Greek immigrant parentage to a strong education to useful and relevant pre-Congressional experience, Senator Sarbanes came to Congress prepared. Fortunately for liberals, unfortunately for conservatives -- with, of course, a handful of exceptions either way -- he achieved a very successful 34-year career. That one need not look at him on television or listen to him on radio reading some wild and overtly partisan declamation written by a subordinate brighter and better informed than he is both a tribute and a relief.

Do you suppose one Edward Moore Kennedy ever will retire?

Marion Edwyn Harrison is President of, and Counsel to, the Free Congress Foundation.


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