For years Bob Packwood had been considered one of the few and the proud
SALEM, Ore. -- Oregonians have always demonstrated a slight
superiority complex when they compared their politics to that of other
states. They would not hesitate to boast of their independence as voters,
the accessibility of their citizen legislature, the lack of state reliance
on federal porkbarrel projects, particularly defense installations. And
the representatives they sent to Washington usually exemplified the
The Oregon congressional delegation has often included people who are sometimes mavericks, generally competent, and hardly ever corrupt. Oregon was especially proud to have two independent-minded and principled representatives in the U.S. Senate, Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood, both Republicans.
That attitude of pride received a body blow last week when Packwood resigned in disgrace. The resignation followed a damning, unanimous report of the Senate Ethics Committee which detailed charges of improper sexual conduct, evidence tampering, and influence peddling.
But for years Bob Packwood had been considered one of the few and the proud; someone as willing to stand up to the president of the United States (as he did to Ronald Reagan) as he was to fanatical special interest groups who demanded ideological purity. In particular, Senator Packwood was an unfailing champion of a woman's right concerning reproductive choice.
How could such a prominent and apparently thoughtful leader fall so far and so fast from the heights of power? The 10,000 pages of material (much of it from the senator's own diaries) that made up the ethics committee report have confirmed suspicions, long held by many in Oregon and elsewhere, about the senator's mind and methods. A review of some of those revelations illustrate the following points regarding the senator's career:
He championed environmental causes until he needed big business to finance his campaigns
In 1968 Oregon was represented in the Senate by men who had been willing to denounce the Vietnam War long before it became popular to do so. Mark Hatfield had won election to the Senate in 1966 against a pro-war opponent. Wayne Morse had been one of only two senators in 1964 to vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution used to justify American involvement.
Bob Packwood defeated Morse in 1968, in part by capitalizing on middle class sentiment that still largely supported the war. During that election Packwood also demonstrated what would later become his signature style of politicking when he broke an agreement with Morse on the terms of their debate.
Packwood originally championed environmental causes. Once he became enmeshed in Washington politics the interests of big business often took the upper hand. He needed their money to finance his campaigns, in which he outspent some opponents by a 10-1 ratio.
In his diary entries, Packwood is seen as someone who in his powerful position as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee played games with the spirit of the federal election finance laws. He wrote that he didn't "want to know" about such improprieties.
While accepting praise of women's groups, the private Bob Packwood was a sexual predator
It's true that Bob Packwood championed the right to abortion very early. He was an astute enough politician to see that women had gained considerable political power with the successes of the womens movement. He used abortion as the touchstone to gain favor with women's groups. But always the master of coalition politics, Packwood was careful to ameliorate the ire of Catholics and others by arguing for school tuition tax credits.
It is now clear that the while the public persona of Bob Packwood eagerly accepted the awards and praise of women's groups, the private Bob Packwood was a sexual predator who took the slightest opportunity to force himself upon numerous unwitting women who were on his staff or merely happened to be in the vicinity. Any respect for the rights of women that his public stands may have demonstrated has been repudiated by personal treatment of women as objects.
Packwood's ex-wife made a statement in last week's Portland Oregonian that she had been unaware of his "shadow life" which had made a mockery of their marriage.
He said the stories were untrue, then launched a quiet campaign to discredit his accusers
When Bob Packwood resigned said on the Senate floor: "I am aware of the dishonor that has befallen me in the last three years, and I don't want to revisit that dishonor on the Senate."
There was no mention of the honor of Oregon. For the three years after his re-election, Packwood barely visited the state that had elected him. It was too painful. He was met by demonstrations and calls for his resignation. With good reason -- Oregonians felt cheated. When Florence George Graves, the reporter who broke the story in the Washington Post about Packwood's sexual advances, asked the senator about the veracity of the stories, Packwood lied. He said there was no truth to them. He then launched a quiet campaign to discredit his accusers. This all happened before the election.
Once he was re-elected, Packwood held a press conference and gave a sort of apology saying he couldn't remember most of the incidents due to alcohol abuse. He said if he had offended anyone, he was sorry. In retrospect, it is evident that Packwood cheated Oregonians out of a fair election.
Even now, having announced his resignation, Packwood plans to remain in office until October. The state of Oregon is in limbo until then, unable to begin the process of electing Packwood's replacement until the vacancy actually occurs.
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