Snyder Ponders 14 Years of Front-Row History

Posted June 8, 2010 at 4:59pm

Rep. Vic Snyder has held many titles in his life: Congressman, Marine, physician.

But the retiring Arkansas Democrat is hoping he could soon add another profession to his résumé: actor.

Snyder hears that Joel and Ethan Coen are remaking the classic John Wayne film “True Grit,” and he wants a part. “I’m hoping the Coen brothers will call to offer me the role of Rooster Cogburn,” he said.

Unfortunately for Snyder, the gig already has been given to Oscar winner Jeff Bridges. But that’s probably for the best. When Snyder leaves office at the end of this session, he’ll be focused on fulfilling the duties of another role: dad.

The 62-year-old lawmaker and his wife, Betsy Singleton, are parents to four young boys, including 18-month-old triplets. Snyder, facing a difficult political climate, announced earlier this year that he will leave office, choosing time with family over a tough re-election battle.

But he isn’t planning on slowing down.

“We don’t use the word ‘retire’ in my household because I need to work to support all these babies,” Snyder joked.

Snyder served seven terms on Capitol Hill, putting much of his legislative focus on national security issues, as he sat on the Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs panels.

Unlike many of his colleagues, Snyder didn’t seek the limelight during his tenure. But he didn’t shun D.C. culture, either. A Renaissance man, the former Marine corporal, physician and Arkansas state Senator (he also has a law degree) made his mark around town. Snyder became known for mingling at swanky embassy events and joined a more low-key morning walking group with Members such as Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.).

He made plenty of friends around town, and on both sides of the aisle. When his staff held a surprise retirement party for him last month, dozens of Members, military officials and international dignitaries attended. Davis even presented Snyder with a special commander’s coin sent by Gen. David Petraeus. “Everyone is going to miss you greatly Vic, and I’m at the top of that list,” Davis said.

Although Snyder is leaving office partly because of a tough political climate, he looks back on his 14 years on Capitol Hill without regrets, he said. “I think it’s a wonderful job, even with all the frustrations and the incredible volatility right now,” he said.

“I don’t think you ever forget what a tremendous honor it is to have the job,” Snyder added. “It goes back to me to eighth-grade civics classes when you’re studying the Constitution. … You trace back your interest in running for Congress or running for elected office from decades before.”

Snyder “can’t point to any specific McCain-Feingold-like bill or anything” that he’s particularly proud of from his years in office, he said. But he’ll probably be remembered most for his work on national security issues.

“It’s been a very, very active time during my 14 years. We had Bosnia, Kosovo and of course” 9/11, Snyder said. “We have been a nation at war most of the time I’ve been in Congress.”

While Snyder largely left medicine behind when he entered public office, his life as a physician occasionally resurfaced. For example, Snyder traveled to the Sierra Leone after the country’s 11-year civil war, a brutal, bloody conflict that caused the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

Years earlier, Snyder had volunteered at a mission hospital in Sierra Leone (one of several similar trips, including to a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand and an Ethiopian refugee camp in Sudan). During his diplomatic trip, he traveled via helicopter to the hospital where he had worked — only to discover it had been burned to the ground by rebel forces.

“To see something that had been very positive … to see it had been destroyed was painful,” Snyder said.

Not every trip abroad was so heartbreaking. Snyder joined then-President Bill Clinton on a trip to Vietnam in 2000, when Clinton became the first commander in chief to visit since the end of the Vietnam War. It was a particularly special trip for Snyder, who served in Vietnam for about a year during his time as a Marine.

But that wasn’t the only reason it was so special.

While Snyder called the trip “a historic, page-turning event in the history of Vietnam and United States,” the highlight of the jaunt might have happened on the ride home.

Snyder flew back with Clinton on Air Force One. The plane stopped in Alaska at 1 or 2 a.m., and at that point, nearly everyone (including the president) had gone to bed. But Snyder was still awake and was offered the chance to sit in the plane’s cockpit.

“They let us take turns sitting, being up front,” Snyder recalled. “The Northern Lights were doing their Northern Lights thing.”

While Snyder had a front-row seat to history with the president, he said one of the things that he’ll miss most about life on Capitol Hill is his staff. He even made sure to note that he’ll miss his interns (whom he pays, by the way).

“I think my staff has been, for the last year or so, or even longer, has been clicking very well,” he said. “I think they’ve got very bright futures. It has been an honor to help them in their endeavors.”