Robison: Charlie Wilson’s Legacy

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(HOST) Commentator Olin Robison has some thoughts on the passing of a man who became a legend in Washington – in more ways than one.

(ROBISON) Charlie Wilson died a few days ago.  You may remember him from that wonderful book by George Crile and the subsequent movie, both entitled "Charlie Wilson’s War".  It is the remarkable story of how one Congressman, Charlie Wilson, from the 2nd congressional district in Texas, rather singlehandedly orchestrated hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a "war" to drive the Soviets out of Afghsnisthan.  In the movie Wilson was played by no less a celebrity than Tom Hanks.

If you neither read the book nor saw the movie and you still remember "good time Charlie" then that is a sure sign that you are a policy wonk.

After I had read the book but before the movie came out I mentioned it in New York City to one of the most distinguished Foreign Service persons of our generation.  As a distinguished diplomat he is known for his steady, unflappable nature.   He nonetheless flared and said, "George Crile is a bleeping liar" except of course he did not say bleeping.  I am, of course, not permitted to say on the air the word he actually used.  I immediately backed off and never did find out what that was all about.

But it is a wonderful story nonetheless – even if it is only half true.

It is easy to see how he got the nickname "good time Charlie" in the Congress.  The movie opens with him in a Hot Tub in Las Vegas with a group of beautiful women none of whom have anything on.  Absolutely nothing.

Now truth in advertising prompts me to say the following:  I have been privileged to know a great many politicians all over the world.  Even so, I did not know Mr. Wilson personally.  I knew of him, of course, but that was all.

Even so, I liked him a lot.  He was once heard to say:  "I have a lot of friends in Congress because I vote ‘yes’ on almost everything."

Even so, he was a liberal on domestic issues and a hawk on foreign policy.

He was also painfully honest.  When he got caught doing something questionable – which was rather frequent, he would say, "Well, yeah, I guess I goofed again;  but those good Christians in my district, you know, they believe in the redemption of sin."  When, after almost three decades, he resigned from Congress in 1995, he said he did so because it wasn’t fun anymore.

After he died, the mayor of Lufkin, Texas, Charlie’s home town, said,

"He was a rascal, but he was our rascal."

So, rest in peace Charlie Wilson.  Really.

(TAG) You can find more commentaries by Olin Robison on-line at VPR-dot-net.

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