Sen. Warner says big goodbye
Emerging from a Pavilion on the Lawn a little before 2pm today accompanied by his third wife, Jeanne Vander Myde, and a cluster of aides, Virginia Senator John Warner circled the Rotunda and descended the front steps to a podium where he announced his retirement after 30 years as a U.S. Senator, the second longest tenure in Virginia history. Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. holds the record.
With his smiling, sometimes tearful looking wife standing a foot away, taking her eyes from his face only to laugh when the press corps did (a selfless gesture it would be hard to imagine one of Warner's other wives doing), Warner said he chose the Rotunda as the site of his announcement because it was "hallowed ground," and because UVA Professor Larry Sabato, who watched the proceedings with former Virginia Governor Gerald L. Baliles, suggested it.
Warner said he made his decision after keeping a journal for six months, debating with himself whether he could help in these complicated times. Warner said he thought the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan is the most complex he has ever seen. Warner said in the end, though, he decided it was time and, of course, quoted Thomas Jefferson: "There is a fullness of time when men should go and not occupy too long the ground to which others have the right to advance."
At one point he told a story about coming to give a graduation speech on the Lawn in 1972 when he was Secretary of the Navy. Then-UVA president Edgar Shannon had invited him despite Vietnam-era campus unrest and distrust of the military. As he began to talk about the importance of service to one's country, Warner said, he noticed that no one in the audience was paying attention. Instead, he said, they were watching streakers running in front of the Rotunda behind him.
During a short question and answer period, Warner hinted that he might ramp up his criticism of the war in Iraq, as he read a newspaper editorial accusing him of playing politics with the issue. Warner said he hoped his decision today would put an end to such accusations.
The Senator refused to answer questions about President George Bush's handling of the war until after the President has a chance to respond to General Petraeus' report, due on September 15.
Warner said he's not sure what he'll do next, mentioning something in the private sector or perhaps some philanthropy, but he did say he would remain involved in serving the people of Virginia.
Then, like an aging king in a Shakespearean drama, Warner left the podium to shake hands with the people.