President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid attended the funeral service for Hawaiian Senator Daniel Inouye at Washington National Cathedral in Washington Friday.
“I think it’s fair to say that Danny Inouye was perhaps my earliest political inspiration,” President Obama said. “And as I watched those hearings, listening to Danny ask all those piercing questions night after night, I learned something else. I learned how our democracy was supposed to work, our government of and by and for the people; that we had a system of government where nobody is above the law, where we have an obligation to hold each other accountable, from the average citizen to the most powerful of leaders, because these things that we stand for, these ideals that we hold dear are bigger than any one person or party or politician.”
Brief but memorable encounter
Over the course of my life so far, I have had the opportunity to cross paths with some famous, historic figures in America’s political arena. Being up close and in-person to someone who has left a trail of accomplishment in our history is always thrilling. Covering the presidential race in Ohio, as I have done this year, put me in close contact with many people whose arch of life will be remembered in many ways.
When I learned of the news of Sen. Inouye’s death, I immediately reflected on my sudden, one-time encounter with him outside the Capitol in Washington when both of us were much younger. Back in 1973 I was 25 years old, and like many others—85 percent of U.S. Households watched some portion of them—I watched my fair share of hours of the televised hearings on Watergate.
Sen. Inouye was prominent among the seven members of the Senate Watergate Committee, a special committee convened by the United States Senate to investigate the Watergate burglaries and the ensuing Watergate scandal, after it was learned that the Watergate burglars had been directed to break into and wiretap the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee by the Committee to Re-elect the President, President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign fund raising organization.
Being in Washington during this time, I recall driving by the Capitol when driving by the Capitol was possible, which it isn’t any more. During those years, it was possible, unlike today, to walk up the Capitol steps and walk into the Rotunda or the House or Senate without having to endure the battery of checkpoints that make doing such a simple thing today impossible.
It was late in the afternoon, as I recall, and on the Senate side of the Capitol, standing all alone, was Sen. Inouye. Being familiar with the members of the Senate Watergate Committee, I remember seeing him standing there alone. I drove my little Volkswagen Beetle car to him, turned it off, got out and approached the senator.
He looked at me, as we were alone, and I proceeded to introduce myself to him, whereupon we extended his good right arm and I shook it with my left hand, which was awkward having always shook hands with my right hand. I’m not a tall person by any means, but I recall him being shorter than me. I told him how much I enjoyed watching the committee hearings. He smiled back to me, a complete stranger whom he never saw again, and we engaged in a short chat before a car he was waiting for pulled up to collect him.
President Obama, as a young boy with a white mom and a black father who had been raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, also saw something in the senator that attracted him. “And so to see this man, this senator, this powerful, accomplished person who wasn’t out of central casting when it came to what you’d think a senator might look like at the time, and the way he commanded the respect of an entire nation I think it hinted to me what might be possible in my own life,” he said of Sen. Inouye.
“This was a man who as a teenager stepped up to serve his country even after his fellow Japanese Americans were declared enemy aliens. A man who believed in America even when its government didn’t necessarily believe in him. That meant something to me. It gave me a powerful sense — one that I couldn’t put into words — a powerful sense of hope.”
I concur, Mr. President, I concur.
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