May 23, 2006
The charmingly patrician former senator from Texas, Lloyd Bentsen, passed away today at the age of 85. He had a fascinating political career, consistently on the moderate-to-conservative side of the Democrat Party. In 1970 he locked horns with George Bush the Elder in the race for Senate, and won. The Washington Post obituary notes that he flew combat missions in B-24 bombers based in Italy during World War Two, just like George McGovern did. Bentsen will no doubt go down in history for uttering the most devastating put-down in American history, to the hapless Dan Quayle in the 1988 vice presidential debate, but he should be remembered for more than that. He served as Secretary of Treasury during Bill Clinton's first term, exerting a much-needed moderating influence, along with Robert Rubin, who replaced him in 1995. Many people forget that Clinton was originally committed to an aggressive liberal Keynesian expansionist program that would have been highly inappropriate at a time of soaring deficits. You can call it luck or wisdom, but the 1990s would definitely not have seen the phenomenal sustained economic expansion without Clinton's momentous mid-1993 choice in favor of fiscal prudence. Bentsen should get some of the credit for that.
So where are the dignified, sensible, moderate Democrats of today?