As state senator and as United States representative, Vic Snyder always seemed exactly the sort of person that public affairs should be entrusted to. He's serious, in the good sense of the word — thoughtful, earnest, sincere. Not a man given to raillery, even with supporters. You could make a documentary of Vic Snyder going about his official duties, show it at schools and civic clubs, and improve Congress' image. But now they've waited too long.
The pride of the Arkansas congressional delegation announced last week that he won't seek re-election. We were lucky to have him for seven terms; we needed him for longer. No one of comparable stature is in sight to succeed him, and these are hard and complex times, the way times always are. (Only in retrospect do they become “golden” and “simple.”)
Much is made of the notion that members of Congress should do only what their constituents tell them to do. Snyder wouldn't have it. He knew that it's often hard to determine what your constituents want — some advocates aren't necessarily more numerous than the other side, they're just louder. More importantly, Snyder knew that he owed the people of the Second Congressional District more than just counting up the for-and-against phone calls. He owed the Second District, and the country, the best that he could give, and that sometimes meant supporting legislation that wasn't highly popular in Central Arkansas. That he was re-elected repeatedly anyway suggests that voters do sometimes reward virtue.
If he were remembered only for his vote against the invasion of Iraq in 2002, Snyder would be remembered favorably. The only veteran in the Arkansas delegation, and the one most knowledgeable about national security, he saw through the administration's lies before it was fashionable to do so. Because a majority of Congress believed, or pretended to believe, the claptrap they were being told, hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost, millions of dollars squandered, and the end is not in sight.
But that's only one of the jewels in Snyder's crown. He voted against the demagogues who sought to weaken the Bill of Rights by putting a flag-burning amendment in the constitution. He opposed the misogynists who would deny a woman ownership of her own body. He stood up to the bigots who sought approval for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. He wouldn't knuckle under to the armed and dangerous NRA when it wanted loaded guns in national parks. He fought the profiteers endangering the environment.
And what was he for? Children, veterans, the elderly, all the people who deserve special help from their government. For them, especially, the new year has not started well.