(Feb. 8) MOBILE, Alabama — From a self-interested standpoint, people here in Alabama are lamenting the loss of clout their state will suffer when veteran Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby retires in two years. But his pending retirement, announced Feb. 8, will deprive not only the state but the nation of a man with a habit of being uniquely right on key issues.

Before explaining why, let it be clear that Shelby had his flaws. He had a tendency to play political hardball when entirely unnecessary; he needlessly hoarded millions in campaign cash that could have been better used to help elect other conservatives; and he was notoriously opaque in his dealings with the media, rarely answering questions directly when roundabout, pointless countrified vignettes could be used to obfuscate or dissemble.

He also made occasional errors of substantive judgment, as when he strongly supported what turned out to be the awful appointment of Nebraskan Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense.

On the other hand, not only was Shelby a largely reliable conservative vote, but he also showed common sense, insight, and long-game wisdom at times when others weren’t focusing on key issues.

Shelby worked strenuously, when few were paying attention, to bring to heel the high-flying management of mortgage kings Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Had he been successful in those and other financial-system-reform measures, this nation might have avoided the worst of the 2008 financial crisis. And at times, indeed, he succeeded in blocking measures that would have made the system even more vulnerable than it was.

Shelby was also the seminal advocate in the Senate for consumer privacy in the new Information Age. Way back in 2001, when few fully understood the issue, Shelby was insisting that banks and other institutions provide opt-out provisions for consumers who don’t want personal information shared without their knowledge or consent. Except that if he had had his way, there would have been even stronger opt-in requirements.

There’s also something to be said for the way Shelby remained one of the old-school legislators who really could forge working relationships across the aisle so that real lawmaking could be done. …

[The full column is at this link.]


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