Most heroes don’t set out on a path of heroics. Instead, they’re thrust into a sudden situation where their character is unexpectedly revealed.
Oregon has had two such men in recent history. Both were U.S. senators. Another just might come from that same branch of government.
One was Wayne Morse, a Republican turned Democrat from Eugene. In August, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson sought Congressional approval to send U.S. troops into Vietnam. When the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution — so named because Johnson used a “they’re shooting at our ships”-style of threat in that Vietnamese body of water — came to the Senate floor, only two men voted “no.” One was Senator Morse. The other was from Alaska.
Another hero, of sorts, was Mark Hatfield. A former state legislator, secretary of state, and governor, Senator Hatfield was one of two Republican senators in 1991 who voted against our military involvement in Iraq. Then in 1995 he was the sole GOP member to oppose the so-called “balanced budget amendment”; his vote for good public policy was the deciding vote.
But it was on June 17, 1972, when the stage was set for another American political hero. That’s when five men, under the direction of the Committee for the Re-Election of the President and with White House knowledge, broke into the Democratic National Committee to repair listening devices and photograph papers. They were caught. Their capture launched an investigation by the media, Congress, and the FBI, leading to the resignation August 9, 1974, of President Richard Nixon.
Congressional action started on February 7, 1973 with creation of the Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. This committee was chaired by Sam Ervin from North Carolina. From May 17 through August 7, approximately 85 percent of Americans watched some portion of the televised Senate Watergate hearings.
During this time, the homespun “Senator Sam” became a folk hero. With skill, persistence, and charm, he guided a bipartisan committee to discover the facts of the illegal entry into the Watergate offices and the cover-up leading to the Articles of Impeachment and ultimate resignation of President Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974.
Today we have another outlandish situation in Washington, D.C., one which could generate yet another Oregon hero.
As the Senate Intelligence Committee begins its investigation on the relationship between Russia and the Donald Trump campaign, comparisons with the Nixon cover-up are eerily similar. The White House is blocking every step, the FBI is stonewalling, and the Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have no appetite for the truth.
Enter Democrat Ron Wyden, Oregon’s senior senator. He has already indicated the FBI is withholding information. According to Sen. Wyden, “There is a big gap between what the public had a right to know and what came out. And that continues to be true to this day.”
What brought down Nixon was the cover-up. The lying. It is always the cover-up.
Wyden, constrained by federal and Congressional secrecy regulations, has a good idea as to what classified information needs to be released.
If neither the Republican chair of the committee nor the FBI will declassify it, then it may come down to Wyden, walking in San Ervin’s footsteps, making sure the American people learn the truth of how Trump’s victorious election was hacked.
Not only is such a revelation critical to the future of our democracy but it most likely is the difference between life and death for our troops in the Middle East, for the Kurds in Syria, Ukrainians, and NATO.
Senator Ron Wyden, the son of Jewish German immigrants, was first elected to Congress in 1980 and then to the Senate in 1998. Now he may find himself in the crucible of a difficult choice. And what happens next could add him to the annals of a genuine Oregon hero.