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.