Even though the staff people who work on Capitol Hill voted him "the nicest" member of Congress, the iconoclastic Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., is loathed, maybe even feared, by the Republican political establishment in Washington. More than $1 million were spent by just two outside groups — the Emergency Committee for Israel, which blasted Jones’ opposition to foreign aid, and the Ending Spending Action Fund, founded by billionaire Joe Ricketts, whose TV commercials branded the conservative Jones a liberal — in an all-out failed campaign to defeat Jones in the recent North Carolina primary.
How can the Washington Republicans so dislike Jones, who, after all, voted against Obamacare, opposes same-sex marriage, has a perfect rating from National Right to Life in opposing legalized abortion, opposes any path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, has voted against every budget not in balance, and whose career voting record gets an A from the National Rifle Association?
Obviously, it’s not Jones’ record on the social and cultural issues.
No, you see, Jones, after 20 years in Congress, makes his colleagues personally uncomfortable. You see, he believed the vice president of the United States when he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars National Convention on Aug. 27, 2002: “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends against our allies, against us” and “as President (George W.) Bush has said, time is not on our side.”
Jones, in whose home district are found the largest Marine Corps base, Camp Lejeune, and Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, and who has been honored time and again for his unswerving support of veterans and their families, strongly endorsed Bush’s choice of war against Hussein and Iraq.
Of course, it turned out Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and represented no realistic threat to our allies, let alone to us. That’s when most politicians backpedaled, explaining that it was not really their fault, that Colin Powell had persuaded them, and that French, British and Israeli intelligence all had been certain Hussein had the weapons.
But not Jones. He went to the funeral of Marine Sgt. Michael E. Bitz, who had been killed in Iraq and whose wife, Janina, and their four children lived in Jones’ district. He stayed in touch with the Bitz family. He was profoundly moved.
Unlike others in power, Jones took responsibility for what he had done. He stood against the war policy of his Republican administration. He worked with a handful of House Democratic colleagues to try to bring American troops home and to prevent such wars in the future. He was one of three House Republicans to vote for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act and Consumer Protection Act, and one of two Republicans to vote against Bush’s expanded surveillance program. He made powerful enemies — J.P. Morgan, Bank of America and Wells Fargo among them — that tried mightily to drive him from office.
But, most impressively to me, Jones has written and continues to write a personal letter of condolence to the closest survivors of Americans who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. The letter is personal and respectful. It seeks to comfort the grieving by telling them that someone in power understands the pain and the loss they are enduring and knows the name of the loved one — child, parent, partner or relative — they have lost. When I saw him a week before his primary, Jones told me he had written more than 12,000 letters. Proof that one man with courage can make a majority.
— Mark Shields is one of the most widely recognized political commentators in the United States. The former Washington Post editorial columnist appears regularly on CNN, on public television and on radio. Click here to contact him, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.