Having lived in Illinois for almost four decades, it's difficult to ignore the career of Paul Simon, the former Democratic Senator who died this week during unsuccessful heart surgery. The man was a model of old-fashioned Depression-colored liberalism: fiscally conservative (or at least as fiscally conservative as one can be while still adhering to the belief that it's government's responsibility to aid the less fortunate) but socially open-minded. In a state where Democrat and Republican politico alike share scandal evenly, Simon was an anomaly: a decent guy who wasn't a pushover.
Most folks outside of Illinois primarily know Simon for his presidential run as a sort of goofy looking figure who affected boy ties, but the man was more than just a walking punchline. He sponsored, for example, the Missing Children Act of 1982, which required the FBI to record all missing children reported to them in their National Crime Information Center (NCIC) computer as an aid to all federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. It's the kind of "but, of course" measure that makes sense after the fact. But it took Simon to get it through.
Per this blog's pop culture focus, the one time that I most took issue with the man was in his final years as a Senator when he started focusing on the shopworn issue of media violence. I remember hearing a radio interview where Simon described happening upon a horror flick in a motel one night that sounded like one of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequels. As he described his appalled reaction to the interviewer, I remember wondering if the workaholic politician had actually been to a movie in the preceding decade. I was willing to wager money he hadn't.
Listening and reading the eulogizing stories over the last day, I was definitely struck by one recurring theme - that Simon (an intellectually rigorous man who continued to study the political world after he retired from office) was a member of a dying breed: a genuine politician who was capable of walking across the aisle to meet and work with his opponents, who was uninterested in demonizing the other party and more focused on just getting the job done. Perhaps that's a simplistic and sentimental take on the man. But after following the current crop of Dem presidential hopefuls in this week's candidates debate, it sure feels true to me. . .