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Warren Rudman: Blunt, Egotistical, Unflappable and Tenacious"

By       Message Kurt F. Stone     Permalink
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Warren Rudman entered the United States Senate a few weeks before fellow Republican Ronald Reagan was to be sworn in as America's fortieth President. Rudman served two six-year terms and could easily have won reelection in 1992. Instead, he decided to call it quits, departing the Senate just as George H.W. Bush was about to leave the White House.

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During those twelve years of Republican rule, Rudman could be found at the epicenter of most of that era's most dramatic, divisive, and contentious issues -- and was often at odds with the administration.

During his first term in the Senate, the New Hampshire Republican successfully took on the powerful American Medical Association, "co"'fathered" the much maligned Gramm"'Rudman"'Hollings deficit reduction act [which he himself called "A bad idea whose time has come"], and co"'chaired the Senate's investigation of the messy "Iran"'Contra" scandal.

[N.B.: This political scandal, which came to light in 1987, was the result of earlier events during the Reagan Administration in which members of the executive branch sold weapons to Iran, and then illegally used the proceeds to continue funding the Sandinista rebels -- "Contras" -- in Nicaragua. Much of the documentation regarding the scandal was found to have been destroyed or withheld by the administration. President Reagan, who initially denied on national television that the alleged activities never occurred, eventually took full responsibility, admitting that "What began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages."]

During his second term, Rudman played a pivotal role in the Ethics Committee investigation of the so"'called "Keating Five," in which the Senate had to go through the delicate procedure of policing its own.

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[N.B.: This financial scandal involved five United States Senators -- Alan Cranston, Dennis DeConcini, John Glenn, Donald Riegel and John McCain -- who were accused of improperly aiding Charles B. Keating, chair of the failed Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, which was target of a federal investigation. Of the five accused senators, only Glenn and McCain were subsequently reelected.]

Throughout these two highly charged, widely publicized episodes, Rudman retained the respect of both his Senate colleagues and the voters of New Hampshire. During his twelve"'year Senate career, Warren Rudman maintained a reputation for being blunt, egotistical, independent, unflappable and pugnacious.

And despite being one of his party's acknowledged "stars" -- columnist Marianne Means called him the "unexpected star of that huge GOP freshman class swept into office with President Reagan" -- Warren Rudman never truly became a creature of Washington society. As he once explained, "To go to a White House dinner and to sit next to someone who I don't know and who is there because they are a friend of Mrs. Bush, or a famous movie star or someone who gave eight trillion dollars to the Republican Party is not my idea of fun."

As a politician, Warren Rudman was always difficult to pigeonhole. A fiscal conservative and defense hawk like most of his Republican colleagues, Rudman was nonetheless far more progressive than his fellows on social issues. He was both pro"'choice and pro-environment; one of Capitol Hill's staunchest defenders of the embattled Legal Services Administration; and a caustic critic of the then-emerging Christian Right. Once, when a reporter asked his views on the Christian Right's social agenda, he responded: "Do you have fifteen seconds? That's all it will take. I'm deeply committed to the right to choose, to the separation of church and state and to personal liberty. The conservative social agenda threatens them all."

Not surprisingly, Rudman saw great consistency in this seeming political me'lange: "The liberals consider me a conservative, and the conservatives consider me a liberal. I consider myself a moderate." Summing up his notion of conservatism, Rudman wrote: ". . . providing legal services to the poor [is] profoundly conservative . . . . Government should not intrude in anything as personal as the decision to have a child, it should not be championing prayer or religion, and family values should come from families and religious institutions, not from politically inspired, Washington"'based

Rudman was not the original family name. Like countless immigrants who came to America in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century, Abraham Rudman, the future Senator's grandfather, received his surname at Ellis Island. As his grandson explained, "We never knew what it had been before that. He [Abraham] was not a man to look back." Like millions of other Jewish immigrants, Abraham Rudman, a native of Odessa, settled on New York's Lower East Side. Unimpressed with New York's endless "sidewalks and tenements," Abe asked a friend where he could find mountains, lakes, and trees. The friend suggested that he should get on a Boston-bound train and take it all the way to the end of the line -- to Maine. Taking the long"'forgotten friend's advice, Rudman ventured up to the Pinetree State, where he wound up living with a Jewish family named Wolman on a farm just north of Bangor. Shortly after his arrival at the Wolman's farm, Abe sent to Odessa for his distant cousin Dora, who soon became his wife. Before long, Mrs. Rudman was speaking English and reading classical literature. Eventually, both Abe and Dora "spoke English like true Down"'Easters."

After a time, the Rudmans purchased a hand"'operated bottling machine and started bottling ginger ale in their home. Over time they secured the franchise to bottle Moxie -- one of the nation's first mass-produced soft drinks -- and moved their expanding enterprise -- "The Rudman Bottling Company"] -- first to Portland, and then to Boston.

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Abe and Dora Rudman had five remarkable children. In his autobiography, Combat, Senator Rudman discussed his aunts and uncles: "Of Abe and Dora's five children, the oldest, my uncle Ben, went to the University of Maine and Tufts Medical School. The second, Morris, graduated from Harvard and Harvard Law. My uncle Sid went to Harvard. My aunt Rita went to Wellesley. My father [Edward, born in 1897] went to work." By the time Edward Rudman joined his father's business, Abe's interests had expanded into "restaurants and similar ventures."

Striking out on his own, Edward Rudman ventured back up to Portland, where he began building houses and developing a passion for antiques. In the mid-1920s, Edward Rudman started a small company that made reproductions of antique furniture; he called it "Old Colony Furniture." When his younger brother Sid graduated from Harvard in 1928, Ed made him his partner. Together, they ran Old Colony for the next forty years. In 1929, Edward Rudman married Theresa [Tess] Levenson from the Bronx. On May 18, 1930, their first child, Warren Bruce Rudman, was born in Boston. He was quickly followed by daughters Carol and Jean.

It is quite likely that Warren Rudman's sense of honesty and integrity came from his father. In the mid-1930s, the elder Rudman decided to move Old Colony from Boston up to Nashua, New Hampshire. Borrowing $100,000 from a "Yankee banker" named George Thurber, Rudman purchased an old sawmill near the Nashua River and started converting it into a factory. Two weeks before the factory was scheduled to begin operations, New Hampshire was hit with the worst flood in its history; Edward Rudman went bankrupt. He went back to George Thurber. As Warren Rudman writes, "[He] said he was wiped outbut if the banker would lend him more money, he'd rebuild and pay back every dime. Thurber approved the loan, and when that wasn't enough, added his own personal loan. In time father paid him off, and Old Colony went on to achieve an international reputation for quality."

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Kurt Stone is a rabbi, writer, lecturer, political activist, professor, actor, and medical ethicist. A true "Hollywood brat" (born and raised in the film industry), Kurt was educated at the University of California, the Eagleton Institute of (more...)

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