There's much to admire about John Danforth, the former U.S. senator from Missouri.
A scion of wealth, he pursued degrees in law and divinity. As a senator, he delivered communion to shut-ins. He confronted hunger in Cambodia and civil war in Sudan. In 2005, he criticized the Republican Party for caring more about gay marriage than the deficit.
Now, though, he's propping up one of the bigger jerks in Congress.
Danforth recently endorsed U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt for the Senate position held by Kit Bond, who will retire in 2010. The endorsement marked a change of heart. Weeks earlier, Danforth had spent time introducing a protégé, Washington University law professor Thomas Schweich, to party activists, lawmakers and donors. Danforth called Schweich a "fresh face" who could keep Bond's seat in Republican hands.
Schweich withdrew his name from consideration on June 11. He said he was stepping aside in order to avoid a "divisive" primary battle.
Danforth immediately threw his support behind Blunt. At the Spirit of Enterprise dinner in St. Louis, a big Republican fundraiser on June 11, Danforth called Blunt a terrific candidate. "Let's keep a seat," he said. "Let's elect Roy Blunt."
Party unity should help Blunt, all right. Less easy to understand is Danforth's willingness to fall in that line.
Three years ago, Danforth was telling people to "get mad" about the party's takeover by the Christian right. Danforth had just published a book, Faith and Politics, in which he sharply criticized fundamentalists' demands of fealty and their lust for wedge issues.
Ordained as an Episcopal priest, Danforth is the kind of guy who attends prayer breakfasts but is mindful of religion's power to divide. He was appalled when Congress intervened in the case of Terri Schiavo, calling it a "breathtaking departure from the principles of the Republican Party." A constitutional amendment to outlaw same-sex marriage? Danforth called it gay bashing. He was also dismayed by attempts to criminalize embryonic stem-cell research. (Danforth dedicated Faith and Politics to the memory of his brother Don, who suffered from ALS.)
But with his endorsement of Blunt, Danforth is now promoting the same politics that he finds so objectionable.
Let's start with Blunt's voting record.
On March 20, 2005, Blunt voted with Republicans who wanted the federal courts to intervene to keep Schiavo alive. (Blunt stood up front, next to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, for press conferences that Sunday.) Two months later, he voted to uphold federal restrictions on spending for embryonic stem-cell research.
In 2006, before the midterm elections, U.S. House Republicans put together a "values agenda" to rally the base. The agenda included a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.
Danforth and Blunt differ in other ways.
Danforth, who once considered becoming a hospital chaplain, has been married to the same woman for more than 50 years.
Blunt, meanwhile, left his wife in order to hook up with the chief Washington lobbyist for Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris. Before he and the lobbyist, Abigail Perlman, married, Blunt tried to slip a provision benefiting her employer into the 475-page bill creating the Department of Homeland Security.
Blunt's ties to lobbyists go beyond the bedroom. In 2003, Blunt's longtime aide, Gregg Hartley, became the CEO at the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, for whom Jack Abramoff briefly consulted. Blunt and DeLay appeared at the party that Cassidy staged to celebrate Hartley's hiring.
To Hartley, working as an aide on Capitol Hill and lobbying on behalf of Verizon, Freddie Mac and other corporations virtually comprise the same job. "Blunt and I both concluded that I could still be a valuable part of his team," he told Washington Post writer Robert Kaiser when asked about the decision to leave the congressman's office and make millions on K Street.