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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Sen. Weicker’s Legacy

Lowell Weicker, the Senator from Connecticut, the maverick Republican, will soon be a former Senator. Attorney General Joseph Lieberman narrowly defeated him on November 8th, in part with a television ad likening Weicker to a snoozing bear to illustrate a number of absences from Senate floor votes.

When it comes to defending the U.S. Constitution, Weicker is no snoozing bear. He has been an indefatigable and courageous supporter of civil liberties, civil rights and the rights of the disabled. He was the first Senator arrested for protesting apartheid in front of the South African Embassy by standing closer to the Embassy than DC law permitted. He was one of the few Republicans to oppose Judge Bork for a Supreme Court post.

The list can go on and on. The point is that there is nobody comparable to Weicker in the U.S. Senate who can be relied upon to be so tough on proposed or actual incursions upon the Constitution. There are other lawyers and former state Attorney Generals in the Senate who share’ his philosophy, but not his passion nor his instinct in detecting such assaults.

There is a paradox inside Weicker. He’ll fight for your constitutional rights but neglect your consumer or environmental rights. Typical of this latter voting record was his preferences during the 99th Congress (1985-86). He voted to defeat an amendment to the Drug Export Bill which provided for increased safety standards in the commercial production of infant formula, while supporting the export of drugs not approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

On other votes, he supported a failed effort to reduce the liability of manufacturers of defective private aircraft, opposed strengthening amendments to the Superfund legislation and stood against limiting PAC contributions and outside honoraria to Senators.

Earlier this month, this three-term Senator from the Constitution State received the coveted Lasker Award for Public Service in recognition of his work for federal biomedical research programs and victims of AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and other scourges. “He has a tremendous understanding and appreciation of scientific research and its meaning to the nation,” said Dr. Michael E. DeBakey, the chairman of the surgery department at Baylor University.

Weicker has a drive to defend underdogs who are ill. He became the champion for the disabled and sick because they had so few champions in a city where, he noted, the flash and glitz of defense programs get the attention.

I only wished his energy could also have been more supportive of measures that would prevent such diseases and traumas — commonly called consumer or worker safety legislation. For some unexplained reason, Weicker was high on medical treatment and low on preventive health and safety regulations.

Weicker’s strong suit was his political courage against the abuses of his own Republican Party and its government. Who can forget his memorable performance during the Watergate scandal and its celebrated hearings chaired by Senator Sam Ervin in 1974? Or how quickly he defied many of the Reaganite madnesses. No cowering politician he, when advised to the contrary because of Reagan’s status in the polls or some presumed political retaliation.

In the final analysis, what defeated Weicker on election day were heavy defections by Republican voters in Fairfield County, who chose to define their party by Reaganisms rather than by the principles that the Republican Party likes to associated with Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt — especially at Convention time.

Few Senators can retire with the sense that the Constitution rested more firmly upon the land because of their presence. Weicker can.