Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 8, 2010

JOHN MURTHA (1932-2010).... A statement released this afternoon:

Congressman John P. Murtha (PA-12) passed away peacefully this afternoon at 1:18 p.m. at Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, VA. At his bedside was his family.

Murtha, 77, was Chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

First elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in February of 1974, Murtha dedicated his life to serving his country both in the military and in the halls of Congress. A former Marine, he became the first Vietnam War combat Veteran elected to the U.S. Congress.

This past Saturday, February 6, 2010, Murtha became Pennsylvania's longest serving Member of Congress.

Murtha's career -- both as a war hero and as an accomplished lawmaker -- has been rather extraordinary, but when I think of him, I immediately turn to the moment in 2005 when Murtha decided he'd made a mistake in supporting the war in Iraq and began calling for an end to the conflict. It made him a hero to many the Bush administration's critics, but just as important, Murtha's stand represented something of a turning point -- if someone of his reputation, stature, and experience, especially on defense issues, came to believe the war was a mistake, it made it easier for others to reach the same conclusion.

For his trouble, Republicans literally accused Murtha -- a decorated combat veteran -- of "giving aid and comfort to the enemy." Murtha nevertheless refused to back down. It was a defining characteristic of his adult life.

As for what happens next to his congressional seat, there will apparently be a special election, and given recent trends, it appears Pennsylvania's 12th will be a pick-up opportunity for Republicans, which in turn may make approving legislation like health care reform that much more difficult. [Update: Chris Cillizza reports: "According to state law, the governor has ten days once the vacancy is officially declared to decide on the date of a special election, which can come no sooner than 60 days following that proclamation. That likely means the special election will be held on May 18, which is the date already set for federal primaries around the state."]

But those additional angles will be fleshed out in time. For today, it's enough to say that Congress has lost one of its bravest leaders, and his presence on the Hill will be missed.

Steve Benen 3:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (12)

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Thanks for your service, and may you rest in peace.

Posted by: doubtful on February 8, 2010 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

Either a GOP pickup opportunity or teabagging fragging of a GOP candidate. Who knows.

Posted by: catclub on February 8, 2010 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

As a former Marine I have a lot of Respect for Murtha. I also have a good deal of respect for people who serve without question and then go to the political sphere through elected office so they can question. That is the real deal.
Now I don't criticize Murtha for the way he worked district spending, he comes from a time where bringing home the pork was the most important measure of a member's effectiveness, so no criticism there.
But I think his record is on the whole a great record of public service, it is scarred by his accusations on Haditha, and especially his failure to apologize for slandering other Marines.
There is nothing wrong to say that one of the reason to oppose war is that war crimes do occur, but it is a different thing to make bogus claims about a specific incident and specific service members.

Posted by: Mike on February 8, 2010 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

John Murtha wasn't perfect, and some of the charges that he strongarmed pork projects for his district were difficult to see any other way. Still, I'll never forget his irascible bitch-slapping of Dick Cheney following another of Cheney's wild claims to know everything about things military; "I like that - a guy with five deferments...". Or the chorus of boos that greeted Jean Schmidt's infamous "only cowards cut and run" speech. Back then, it was still possible to hope that America hadn't completely lost its sense of decency.

Rest in Peace, old soldier.

Posted by: Mark on February 8, 2010 at 4:17 PM | PERMALINK

Apparently he underwent gall bladder surgery, his intestine was perforated, and he died. Fortunately, the Republican Tort Reform proposal is not yet law, so a malpractice suit can take place.

Posted by: DAY on February 8, 2010 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

Murtha was right on the one big issue of the Bush presidency -- the Iraq war -- but he was one of the more corrupt members of congress. It's unfortunate for his family, but it might well be good for the country.

Posted by: CDRealist on February 8, 2010 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

I have very mixed feelings about Jack Murtha. But one thing is for sure: he made a difference. Most congressman go through their career without accomplishing much more than getting reelected. For better or worse, that cannot be said about Murtha.

Posted by: fostert on February 8, 2010 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Out of respect for the dead, I'll leave the eulogizing to others.

As for the issue of his successor, isn't it weird that they're going to have a special election in May only to have another election in November? Seems like a situation where a governor ought to be able to appoint a temporary fill-in.

Posted by: Conrad on February 8, 2010 at 4:48 PM | PERMALINK

Conrad: I believe it's PA law to require a special election, rather than allowing for a gubernatorial appointment.


Posted by: Zorro on February 8, 2010 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

I grew up in Murtha's district, and I'm not at all convinced it's a pickup opportunity.

It's small-c conservative, heavy on the social conservative stuff, to the core. There are more Democratic votes than you'd expect because the population is much older than you'd expect--so old they can remember being in a steelworker's union.

But here's the thing. Murtha was never all that popular. People liked Murtha's money, because he made it rain pork like nobody else could. When he spoke out against the war, he pissed off his constituents because they were afraid the GOP leadership would shut down his earmarks in retaliation.

Democrats still control Congress, and I'm not at all sure that Johnstown voters won't turn out in force for whoever can most plausibly claim to keep the money flowing. God knows that place needs it.

Posted by: Matt on February 8, 2010 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

To be fair, Murtha was also a King of Pork.

Posted by: MNPundit on February 8, 2010 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

I heard him speak at the Mount Pleasant VFW Club. He did not support the war in Iraq.
And as for being the so called king of pork, he helped the town of Johnstown, a poor area in Pennsylvania, that had suffered devastating floods, the first flood had been a tragic result of elitist millionaires with their unregulated resort lake waterlands flooding down on the town.
Who dat?? He was a good man.

Posted by: Close to Home on February 8, 2010 at 10:54 PM | PERMALINK
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