In my tradition it is customary to memorialize a dead person 30 days after one’s death. I want to follow that tradition for John Murtha.
I am struck by the irony that on the 30th day after John Murtha’s death, the House Democratic leadership banned budget earmarks to private for profit corporations. That ended the practise of billions of dollars of no bid contracts being awarded to earmark beneficiaries. That practise, now ended, led to all sorts of excesses–and that’s an understatement.
Added to the irony is that at John Murtha’s funeral, a eulogizer who is a priest, used Ecclesiastes to say; There is a time for legislation and a time for not legislating; there is a time for earmarks–and the attendees roared with laughter.
John Murtha deserves to be remembered very differently. Murtha regularly visited veterans at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Center –those with physical, emotional and mental wounds– without fanfare or publicity. Murtha cared about those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and earlier in Vietnam. House members have told me that when Murtha spoke in the caucus he voiced the same caring he reflected in his visits. He was a powerful influence on his colleagues. It helped them remember and respond to the needs of those who served.
I worked with Murtha on end the war Iraq legislation in opposition to the Bush polcies. I was no intimate. But Murtha was a serious legislator who listened to my reports, and those of others, on House members. He shared his observations with me as well. I was a supplier of intelligence on Members’ thinking and he gave me added clues in our pursuit of creating majority votes of no confidence of the Bush Iraq policies.
When Murtha, the fomer Marine combat officer, opposed the Iraq policy he was refecting the views of the captains, major and colonels who fought the battles. Even more important he was influenced by what the enlisted men and women were reporting. Murtha listened. He acted on what he heard.
He used his power and influence as the Subcommittee Chair on Defense Appropriations to lift the authentic voices in the armed services so that they will be heard–voices that are too often neglected.
Murtha also reminds us that in politics there are no permanent adversaries or allies. Along with many others I worked against Murtha’s efforts to support our disastorous El Salvador and Nicaragua policies in the 1980s. His views on House ethics policies, and his opposition to lobbying disclosure–one of a handul of legislators when it came time to vote– shows that he was willing to stand for what he believed even as distasteful as his views were.
The Murtha story follows a different path. Murtha’s lasting memory will always be the difference he made in opposing the Iraq war. His moral actions will always be those continuing and non-public unannounced visits to the wounded who fought our unnecessary wars of choice.