Kirk Eulogizes Percy

Sen. Mark Kirk issued this statement of condolence for one of his predecessors, former Illinois Sen. Charles Percy, who died Saturday at age 91:

I am deeply saddened at the loss of Senator Charles Percy. Senator Percy proudly served our country in the Navy and the Senate. As a job creator, he expanded Bell & Howell’s employment 12-fold. As our Senator, he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee during America’s comeback that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. His brand of moderate fiscal conservatism will be missed. I send my sincere condolences to the Percy family during this difficult time.

Kirk has a lot in common with Percy, although not quite as much as he imagines. Both were New Trier graduates from Kenilworth. As a result of their North Shore backgrounds, both represent belong a tradition to a tradition of fiscally conservative/socially liberal Republicanism regarded with suspicion by the rest of the party.

Percy supported low-income housing, environmentalism and consumer protection. He was so closely associated with Rockefeller Republicanism that he threatened to displace Rockefeller as the face of the GOP’s moderate wing. He may have been a more electable candidate than Rockefeller, whose divorce in the early 1960s damaged his presidential prospects. Percy was talked about as a presidential candidate in 1968, after less than two years in the Senate, but he deferred to the more experienced Rockefeller, who lost the nomination to Richard M. Nixon.

Astonishingly, Percy earned a 52 percent rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, and a 30 percent rating from the American Conservative Union. By the time Percy was defeated by Paul Simon in 1984, that style of moderation was nearly obsolete in Ronald Reagan’s Republican Party.

Kirk, by contrast has a 58 percent lifetime from the American Conservative Union, one of the lowest of any Republican senator, but far higher than Percy’s.    

The biggest difference between Percy and Kirk is on foreign policy. Percy was a dove who often criticized Lyndon Johnson’s and Richard Nixon’s prosecution of the Vietnam War, promoting a moratorium on sending more troops and finally trying to cut off funding. Kirk is a hawk who voted to authorize President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and has made his military service in the Middle East a centerpiece of his political identity.
Mark Kirk isn’t as liberal as Chuck Percy. But if Chuck Percy were in politics, he probably wouldn’t be as liberal as Chuck Percy, either.

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