Carper brings vintage performance to Lewes

April 21, 2017

Tom Carper, Delaware’s senior U.S. senator, brought his congenial self to Lewes April 8 for the annual meeting of the Greater Lewes Foundation. First elected in 1977 as Delaware’s treasurer, Carper has been in elected office ever since, without break. Quick math: 40 years.

As keynote speaker, Carper displayed all the characteristics that politicians who reach his status bring: comfortable around lots of people; plenty of energy; all-American, strong-jawed good looks; and an easy, even-tempered speaking style spiced with self-deprecating humor.

GLF Chairman Joe Stewart introduced Carper as one of Delaware’s and Washington D.C.’s most respected politicians.

He also referenced the senator’s legendary tireless interaction with his constituents. “Some liken him to the Energizer Bunny.”

Carper took the podium following a performance by the Mispillion Children’s Chorus led by Sharon Starling.

“Tough act to follow,” he said. He went on to talk about following poet and novelist Maya Angelou one time after she addressed a University of Delaware graduation.

“Every year I was governor, they gave me the honor of presenting a pen and pencil set to the top male and female graduates. Big crowd; 25,000 people. Place was always full. And Maya, of course was great, finishing with an original poem for the graduates. Talk about a tough act to follow. Presenting two pen and pencil sets after Maya Angelou.”

But, he said, being in Angelou’s company fit his usual operating philosophy. “I always surround myself with people smarter than me.”

Then he paused. “My wife says that’s not hard.”

Now into his third six-year term as U.S. senator, Carper spoke briefly about his combat service in Vietnam as a Navy pilot and recalled a return trip decades later as a senator instead of a soldier. “We were working on normalizing relations and were making great progress. A few years later, a survey of Vietnam citizens found that 85 percent felt the U.S. was their nation’s best ally. Then a couple of years after that, a similar survey found that number up to 95 percent. They like us more than we like us.”

A partisan vote on Gorsuch

Carper prides himself as one of Washington’s least partisan senators. Consistent with his West Virginia Christian upbringing - and as a smart politician - he’s loath to say a negative word about anyone.

But the day before he was in Lewes, Carper fell in completely with his Democrat partisans in the Senate by voting against approving President Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. He spoke nothing of Gorsuch - nothing bad or good - but made it clear that, in just a few words, the vote was tit for tat. “In the first five years of the Obama administration, the Republicans used filibusters to block 79 judicial appointments. And up until last Friday, the Senate maintained a 60-vote threshold for approving Supreme Court nominations. But the Republicans changed those rules to require just a simple majority and approved Gorsuch.

“They sat on President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for 270 days. Wouldn’t even give him a hearing. Garland was treated shamefully. I suggested hitting the pause button on Gorsuch and waiting until there were two Supreme Court positions to be filled. But that died. No support.”

Carper said he’s been asked if he’s fearful for our nation in these uncertain times. “We went through a civil war 150 years ago. Hundreds of thousands died. Afterward, the president was assassinated and his successor was impeached. Then we went through two world wars and came out as a world leader and the mightiest force for justice on the planet. We made it through Sept. 11, 2001, and if we can do all that, we can succeed.”

Carper pivoted into positive territory for his finale, talking about the death of astronaut and senator John Glenn, who was laid to rest earlier in the week. “He was humble; was here to serve and not be served. His style was leadership by example. He also had the courage to stay out of step when others were marching to the same tune. He was a uniter, not a divider. He did what he thought was right; he believed in excellence in everything, and he never gave up.”

And he closed with a plug for a movie, “Hidden Figures,” in which Glenn figures prominently.

“If you haven’t seen it, see it. It’s inspiring.”