Monday, January 3, 2005

Two Losses

Two interesting and powerful political figures passed from the scene over the weekend. The first was California Rep. Bob Matsui, who died on Saturday.

At his death, Rep. Matsui was the third-ranking Democrat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and among the highest-ranking Asian Americans in House history.

As an infant, he was interned in a detention camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. He later pushed through a bill hoping to redress the psychological damage of internees.

The second was former Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress and candidate for the presidency in 1972.

Chisholm was elected to the House from Brooklyn in 1968 and was an outspoken advocate for women and minorities during her seven terms. She was a riveting speaker who often criticized Congress as being too clubby and unresponsive.

“My greatest political asset, which professional politicians fear, is my mouth, out of which come all kinds of things one shouldn’t always discuss for reasons of political expediency,” she once said.

Chisholm became a congresswoman the same year Richard M. Nixon was elected to the White House and served until two years into Ronald Reagan’s tenure as president. She was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1969.

Both of these people earned the respect of the nation for their tireless work on behalf of more than just their constituency or their own ethnic group, and they did it in a way that brought people to them with hope instead of fear. There’s a sore lack of that style of leadership today, and I hope that their legacy is that it will not be forgotten.