Commentary Magazine


Sic Transit Dodd

The decision of Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd to avoid the humiliation of being defeated for re-election later this year may well help the Democrats hold his seat. It was more than likely that either of his Republican opponents — former Congressman Rob Simmons or pro-wrestling tycoon Linda McMahon — would have beaten the five-term incumbent handily. However, if the Democrats nominate Richard Blumenthal, the Nutmeg State’s attorney general, the odds may shift back in favor of the Democrats. Once the rising star of Connecticut Democratic politics, Blumenthal has held that office since 1990. However the timorous though ambitious Blumenthal passed on every opportunity since then to run for higher office because he feared defeat. At 66, Blumenthal is no longer a boy wonder, but his reputation is spotless. Yesterday, Dodd’s seat was a likely GOP pickup in 2010. Today it must be considered an open seat that the Democrats will probably hold.

As for the demise of Dodd, the fact that his political career comes to an end as a result of ethical scandals is a sad irony. Prior to his recent difficulties, Dodd was best remembered as Ted Kennedy’s favorite drinking buddy or as the leading voice of liberal opposition to the Reagan administration’s efforts to stop the spread of communism in Central America in the 1980s – the same timeframe when Dodd was dating Bianca Jagger.

But the animating spirit of the career of this liberal party animal (Dodd used to joke that the only reason he had accepted President Clinton’s request that he assume the chairmanship of the Democratic Party’s National Committee was that the question had come up while they were on a bad phone connection and the only word he heard clearly was “party,” so of course he agreed.) was his desire to honor the memory of his father Thomas, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1958 to 1970. In 1967, the Senate formally censured the elder Dodd for transferring campaign funds to his personal accounts. The spectacle of the Senate humiliating one of its own in this fashion doomed Tom Dodd’s re-election chances in 1970, and he died of a heart attack soon after leaving office. But the pain of this incident never left his son, who launched his own career a few years later in no small measure as an effort to vindicate the family name. While Tom Dodd was a fervent anti-Communist who at one time was a paid lobbyist for the dictator of Guatemala, Chris became the scourge of those seeking to prop up Latin American governments against leftist revolutionaries. But despite this difference, the younger Dodd sought every possible opportunity to burnish his late father’s tattered reputation. He never missed an opportunity to claim that his father had been ill-used by the press and his colleagues. Though many at the time thought the campaign funds charge was just the tip of the iceberg of Tom Dodd’s corruption, Chris was vocal in claiming that his father was innocent. It was at Dodd’s insistence that the University of Connecticut established a special research center named for his father. He also fought to have a minor league baseball stadium in Norwich named for Tom Dodd.

Thus, it is no small irony that a man who spent his life trying to clear the name of his father wound up being sunk by the same sort of charges. Dodd’s crooked Irish real estate deal, his notorious membership in the “Friends of Angelo” VIP mortgage club at Countrywide Financial while chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and his legislative efforts to clear the way for bonuses to be paid to AIG executives marked him as a symbol of a new generation of corrupt Washington politicians. The son repeated the sins of the father.

Also ironic is the fact that despite Dodd’s efforts to help defeat his Connecticut colleague Joe Lieberman in 2006 for his apostasy in supporting the war in Iraq, one year from now Lieberman will still be in the Senate and Dodd will not.