- It's difficult to remember now, given everything that has happened since then, but Murtha and the rest of his colleagues came to Washington as reformers in the wake of the Watergate scandal. Murtha was unusual in that he was a Vietnam veteran and had served with great distinction and there was much hope that he might be a leader of the group, a group that also included a Norbertine Order Catholic priest named Robert Cornell, who represented my home district, WI-8.
- Fr. Cornell left office in 1978, but John Murtha stayed on. And he soon became involved in the Abscam scandal. He managed to survive that and ended up serving 18 full terms in the Congress, becoming a porkmeister extraordinaire who survived by funneling ample federal largesse to his home district, while making occasional social conservative noises to deflect attention to the larger reality that he was part of the gang.
- Murtha came to prominence late in his career when he became an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq. Because he was a Marine, his words carried far more weight than the typical Congresscritter. Unfortunately, his words were thoughtless and, in the case of his fellow Marines at Haditha, outright slander. My friend Leo Pusateri and his colleagues have amply documented Murtha's career at the Murtha Must Go blog.
So what do we make of this American life? I do not know the condition of Murtha's soul and must presume that a merciful God will welcome the Congressman. The larger issue is that a man can spend nearly 40 years in the Congress. He's hardly alone -- there are plenty of old bulls roaming the halls there. John Dingell has been there for over 50 years. Congressional seats should not be sinecures and it's up to the voters to look for new leadership from time to time. Congressman Murtha came to Washington to reform it, but instead he became part of the thing. His nearly 40-year career deformed him, deformed his district and further impoverished our politics. That's a legacy I'd wish on no one. I pray for his family and thank Congressman Murtha for his long service to the nation, but I regret the results of it. RIP.