When he scoped out situations and found corruption, abuse of power and worse, he used his skills and connections to relentlessly push for change. Back in Washington, D.C., his office became a home away from home for dissident leaders from around the world who got short shrift elsewhere. As a consequence, to pick one example, Solarz probably had better ties with the Kurdish leaders in Iraq than any other American.
Solarz’s shining moment, perhaps, was on the House floor during the stirring debate over whether to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait, i.e., the first Gulf War. There were dozens of emotional and wrenching speeches as Members struggled with the decision about whether to send young Americans to war, and perhaps to death; at the time, there were predictions of potential mayhem in the desert. When liberal Democrat Solarz stood up and spoke in favor of the authorization, it was truly a riveting moment. Everyone stopped to listen. He was powerful and eloquent, and he did as much as anyone to shape the outcome. There are few examples in which an individual lawmaker has any effect, much less one that is consequential, from a speech on the House floor.
It is hard to imagine another Solarz emerging in a political system that is now so polarized that a powerful an opinion leaders and statesmen like Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) cannot persuade his own party colleagues to vote for the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It is even harder to imagine a House Member throwing himself into peripatetic travel to every corner of the globe and trying to shape events and outcomes in the world without being shredded by cable news and anonymously funded campaign attack machines, or finding ways to build unlikely and persuasive partnerships across every partisan and ideological divide.
But it is not impossible to imagine some new Members of both parties persuaded by Solarz’s example to take some trips abroad despite the predictable media criticism of junkets and the equally predictable partisan flak, and to think about core values of freedom, human rights and America’s national interest as transcending petty partisan interests. At least I like to think it is not impossible.
Norman Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.