Commentary Magazine


Posts For: September 17, 2011

Don’t Mourn the Death of Percy’s GOP

The death on Saturday of former U.S. Senator Charles Percy at 91 was noted today in a laudatory obituary in the New York Times. Percy had a distinguished career in business and served three terms in the Senate from Illinois as a Republican. The Times quoted a scholar from the liberal Brookings Institution lamenting the fact that members of the GOP today are nothing like Percy. But that ought to be a cause for celebration. He is best remembered today as the exemplar of a type of Republican that is now extinct: a liberal establishmentarian who was an opponent of the state of Israel.

Percy blamed supporters of Israel for his defeat in 1984. This is a theme that was picked up by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their ludicrous book The Israel Lobby in which the duo paints Percy as a martyr to the power of the all-powerful conspiracy for Zion. It is true that many in the pro-Israel community embraced the candidacy of Paul Simon, his Democratic challenger. However, the Times, which omitted any mention of Percy’s record as one of the most vociferous opponents of Israel in the Senate, was closer to the mark than Walt and Mearsheimer when the paper said of his defeat that the senator had become “old goods” to Illinois voters when they rejected him despite having a triumphant Ronald Reagan at the top of the GOP ticket. By that time, having a Rockefeller Republican senator with higher ratings from liberal groups than conservative ones wasn’t something that excited voters from either party.

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The death on Saturday of former U.S. Senator Charles Percy at 91 was noted today in a laudatory obituary in the New York Times. Percy had a distinguished career in business and served three terms in the Senate from Illinois as a Republican. The Times quoted a scholar from the liberal Brookings Institution lamenting the fact that members of the GOP today are nothing like Percy. But that ought to be a cause for celebration. He is best remembered today as the exemplar of a type of Republican that is now extinct: a liberal establishmentarian who was an opponent of the state of Israel.

Percy blamed supporters of Israel for his defeat in 1984. This is a theme that was picked up by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their ludicrous book The Israel Lobby in which the duo paints Percy as a martyr to the power of the all-powerful conspiracy for Zion. It is true that many in the pro-Israel community embraced the candidacy of Paul Simon, his Democratic challenger. However, the Times, which omitted any mention of Percy’s record as one of the most vociferous opponents of Israel in the Senate, was closer to the mark than Walt and Mearsheimer when the paper said of his defeat that the senator had become “old goods” to Illinois voters when they rejected him despite having a triumphant Ronald Reagan at the top of the GOP ticket. By that time, having a Rockefeller Republican senator with higher ratings from liberal groups than conservative ones wasn’t something that excited voters from either party.

Though the Times’ cheers Percy’s pose of bipartisanship, his was a Republicanism that fit the mode of the party’s old-line establishment that was dying even when he reached the Senate in 1966. It was a party that stood for nothing but protection of corporate interests and had long become complicit in the corruption of the liberal welfare state. It combined that concept of backing for the Democratic program minus five or ten percent with a snooty elitism that disparaged faith and the rights of taxpayers as well as having little sympathy for Jews or Israel. Fortunately for the country, that Republican Party and the moneyed establishment that Percy embodied, is now as dead as he is.

Contrary to the anti-Israel conspiracy mongers, AIPAC didn’t destroy Percy’s career. Rather, his defeat was the product of general disillusionment with the sort of politics that he symbolized. Had Percy not been out of touch with the voters on a host of issues that included his appalling stands on the Middle East (he once termed the bloodthirsty terrorist Yasir Arafat a “moderate”), he would not have been defeated no matter how much money was funneled to his opponent.

But the main point here is not the manner of his ungraceful exit from politics, but the fact that someone with his views on Israel would today be considered a marginal crackpot in the Republican Party in the manner of Ron Paul rather than a mainstream figure. Chuck Percy stood for a type of Republicanism that deserved to be rejected by members of his party as well as the nation as a whole. We are all better off that we won’t see his like in the Senate again.

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