For Whom the Bell Tolls

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 5:  The Capitol Hill office of U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO)  is quiet the day after he lost to Re
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 5: The Capitol Hill office of U.S. Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) is quiet the day after he lost to Republican congressman Cory Gardner, November 5, 2014 in Washington D.C. The GOP tipped the balance of power in the Senate in yesterday's midterm election, which resulted in GOP leadership of the Senate. (Photo by Allison Shelley/Getty Images)

For a political veteran, American politics has seemed disjointed and occasionally irrational in recent years. People are voting against their own interests. Campaign speeches are often ideological statements designed to appeal to a "base." And most of all the money. In the past twenty or thirty years, we have managed to thoroughly corrupt our democratic system through the intricate network of a permanent political class composed of lobbyists, campaign professionals, fund raisers, and the media.

Every generation longs for a better past, often one that never was as good as it seems in memory. But there was a time when idealism triumphed over power and men and women of good will, often young, entered public service out of a purer motive of doing something for our country.

Mark Udall was one of those. He came about as close to representing an ideal Colorado Senator as anyone in my lifetime. He embodies Western culture and values. He served out of duty not vanity. He subscribed to the principles of his Party but always put the national interest first. He operated out of instinct and his instincts were almost always right. He was not a self-promoter. That used to be a virtue. He did what was right. As of next January he will no longer be Colorado's Senator.

The Udall family has served our nation in various capacities as well as any other family in the West. They pioneered in making the transition from the age of conservation to the new age of environmental protection. It is all the same thing. Mark Udall's opponent derided Mark and his family for their long and distinguished service. Of course, he did not apply the same standard to the Bush family. But who said politics was consistent -- or fair.

Regardless of one's party, serious citizens concerned for our country's future should be thinking seriously about where our politics are headed, not just left or right but forward or backward. Our founders repeatedly said that the greatest danger to the survival of the Republic they created was corruption, corruption being favoring special or narrow interests over the common good. We are there now and we are increasing the speed with which we become a totally special interest political system. And, even if my Party had prevailed in this election, I'd be issuing the same warning. Where the feared corruption is concerned, both Parties are equally guilty.

Most of all, how do uncorrupted political leaders -- and Mark Udall was one -- survive in a corrupt environment? We must fear that they cannot. The Supreme Court of the United States, by one vote, has now said that a corporation can spend as much as it wants to achieve its special interest agenda. Whatever this kind of system is called, it is not the classic republican system to which our founders were committed.

Being free spirited, and largely non-ideological, the American people could well move back toward a progressive agenda in two or four or six years. That seems to be the pattern and our nation is strong enough to survive these lurches one way or the other. But what we should be concerned about is whether there will be public spirited and idealistic Americans like Mark Udall willing to swim through the treacherous tides of 21st century politics when the atmosphere is more conducive to that kind of public servant.

Mark Udall is going to be fine. I hope he finds a leadership role in an organization committed to the preservation and conservation of the West and the protection of our climate and environment. We should not be concerned for Mark. We should be concerned for ourselves and for our Republic.