I recalled an untold story about Dan Rostenkowski that did not appear in his obituaries. It has lessons for why the Senate should agree to the New Start treaty. That story provides a rich example of building unlikely ad hoc alliances. It recognizes the importance of the military to advance peace and arms control efforts.
What reminded me of the Rostenkowski story was the picture in the obituaries of Rostenkowski sitting with Speaker Tip O’Neill. In 1971 O’Neill was beginning to lead an anti-Vietnam War effort. He was the first establishment House Democrat to step forward and lead the effort. O’Neill had agreed to lead a group of Democratic regulars who had previously been war supporters. O’Neill’s credibility came from his opposing the war under President Johnson. The group hopefully would include Rostenkowski.
O’Neill wasn’t going to ask him to join him. He wanted me to do that. I gulped. I didn’t know Rostenkowski and he was no friend of institutional reform. which was my calling card. Nevertheless following the principle that you talk with everybody ,Rostenkowski agreed to give me five minutes.
My presentation was unpersuasive. Then Rostenkowski opened up. Like John Murtha on Iraq 35 years later, he had been talking with enlisted soldiers and officer who were not generals and were the future leadership of our military.. Their overwhelming view was that the Vietnam War was not working militarily and at the same time was harming the US Army as an institution. This galvainzed Rostenkowski’s oppositon to the war. He would join O’Neill, and the others. My cohorts and I had to recognize how the war was weakening the strength and morale of our armed forces. That had to be part of our public argument.
Shift to New Start. Our current military stands firmly in support of New Start. Retired military officers can also play a strong support role by articulating the case for the New Start treaty from a military perspective and the harm that comes from the Senate not advising and consenting to New Start. The military here joins with its retired civilian promoters Secretary James Baker and Secretary James Schlessinger.
To those Senators who have so far not stepped up in support of New Start they should have to choose between the responsibility and prudence of our current and retired military officers or the recklessness of opposition to New Start. That is the legacy Dan Rostenkowski worked for. It is very much part of the Baker and Schlessinger DNA. It deserves being listened to.