}

Saturday, December 10, 2016

John Glenn

I was sad to hear that John Glenn died yesterday, though 95 is a pretty long life. Like a lot of Americans, I admired him for his achievements in his first career, but I also appreciated his Senate career and his candour in politics. I can’t always say one, let alone both.

I was too young to know about his historic flight at the time, though I certainly heard about it many times as I grew up. I wrote about all that back in 2012, on the 50th anniversary of his historic space flight in earth’s orbit. I also wrote this about his political career:
On the whole, I thought Glenn was a good Senator. However, there was one incident that cemented his image in my mind as a good guy. A Washington lobbyist told me in the early 1990s about an incident in which Glenn found himself in an elevator with the vile, disgusting and repugnant Senator from North Carolina, Jesse Helms. Glenn was reported to have said, “You know what the real problem with abortion is, Jesse? That it’s not retroactive.” In the case of Jesse Helms, I couldn’t possibly have agreed more. [emphasis and link in the original]
I have no idea whether Helms knew that Glenn’s remark was aimed at him, but either way it’s one of my favourite US politics anecdotes. And, no, I have no independent verification that it’s actually true, but it could be, and is typical of the sorts of directness that marked Glenn’s political career.

Glenn was good on a number of issues, and he was pretty good on civil rights issues. He did vote for the infamous “Defense [sic] of Marriage” Act (DOMA) in 1996, but he had a lot of company: All up, 85 US Senators voted for it and only 14 voted against it. That same year, he also voted to prohibit job discrimination against gay people, which demonstrates he wasn’t a reflexively anti-gay politician as so many others were at the time, and some still are.

John Glenn was unique: There aren’t that many people who achieve hero status in their career, let alone then go on to have a distinguished second career. On the whole, Glenn was a good man who did good. He’s another one who's like we’ll not see again.

Godspeed, John Glenn.

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