Metzenbaum Dies at 90

posted at 8:41 am on March 13, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Howard Metzenbaum, the scourge of conservatives in the Senate for 18 years, has passed away at 90. Senator No retired in 1995, but not before building a reputation as an opponent of big business and the union lobby’s best friend on Capitol Hill. However, he should be remembered for a hit job delivered on national television that recalled the worst history of the Senate:

Former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, an Ohio Democrat who was a feisty self-made millionaire before he began a long career fighting big business in the Senate, died Wednesday night. He was 90.

Metzenbaum died at his home near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said Joel Johnson, his former chief of staff. No cause was given.

During 18 years on Capitol Hill, until his retirement in 1995, Metzenbaum came to be known as “Senator No” and “Headline Howard” for his abilities to block legislation and get publicity for himself.

He was a cantankerous firebrand who didn’t need a microphone to hold a full auditorium spellbound while dropping rhetorical bombs on big oil companies, the insurance industry, savings and loans, and the National Rifle Association, to name just a few favorite targets.

Metzenbaum was a formidable opponent, as the above shows, even when the opponent was a fellow Democrat. He tried to beat John Glenn for his Senate seat in a primary race in 1974. He accused Glenn, a Marine Corps test pilot and original astronaut, of never having held a real job, an accusation that infuriated Glenn. He told Metzenbaum to ask any Gold Star mother whether he son held a real job while dying for his country in a speech that became famous, and Metzenbaum lost the election. Glenn only started speaking to Metzenbaum when he ran for President in 1984.

Unfortunately, this was not out of character for Metzenbaum. This same kind of ruthless attack style would blow up in Metzenbaum’s face during a little-remembered but defining moment of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. Metzenbaum attempted to smear one of Thomas’ witnesses in rebuttal to Anita Hill with a bizarre and unsworn allegation that John Doggett — himself an outspoken black liberal — had sexually harassed a white woman in his workplace during his first week at his law firm eight years prior to the hearings. It provided an eerie echo of the kind of accusation that Thomas himself was answering, and Doggett was outraged:

Mr. DOGGETT. Senator, your comments about this document are one of the reasons that our process of government is falling apart. First of all, Senator, I have a copy of the statement that this person met—it is called a transcript of proceedings. But, Senator, if you read this, it is as telephone conversation that she has with some staff members pro and against Mr. Thomas, and she is not under oath. I did not do any of the things that she alleged. In fact, the first time any of these issues were raised was the day before I was supposed to come here, 8 1/2 years later. I knew when I put my information into the ring, that I was saying I am open season. For anybody to believe that, on the first day of work, for a woman working in the xerox room, who is 19 years old, a 33-year-old black man would walk up to a 19-year-old white girl and kiss her on the mouth as the first thing that they did, whoever believes that really needs psychiatric care. But let me talk about the facts, since you brought up this statement, which was not made under oath, which was not made consistent with any of the rules that you Senators are supposed to be responsible for, since this is the Judiciary Committee, let me talk about that, since you asked the question and went on and on and on. During that time that she—I have read this statement. If she had made it under oath, Senator, I would go to court, butSenator METZENBAUM. This isn’t her statement. I am reading from your statement, Mr. Doggett.

Mr. DOGGETT. The statement that you read from was a discussion with me, and consistently your staff people said, “I don’t have the transcript, I don’t remember the exact facts.” Well, I have the transcript and the exact facts show this woman to be a profound liar who does not even remember the facts accurately.

As I wrote last year, if anyone doubted that there existed a concerted effort to commit character assassination in that proceeding, that portion of the testimony should have removed all doubt. The modus operandi was the same — a sexual smear against a black attorney designed to discredit him. It again relied on unsubstantiated allegations, culled from an incident that purportedly occurred years beforehand. And it was designed to intimidate the target into withdrawing from the proceeding, and also failed.

And Howard Metzenbaum delivered that smear. Joe Biden was eventually forced to rule Metzenbaum out of order after Doggett ripped him apart on national television and exposed the entire tawdry episode as an exercise in McCarthyism. Be sure to read my whole post from my archives.

Metzenbaum’s passing is a tragedy for his family, but his departure from politics was anything but a tragedy for the nation.


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He was unlikeable, he was a smear artist, he was everything we hate in the Democratic party.

RIP.

emailnuevo on March 13, 2008 at 8:53 AM

I remember Metzenbaum well. He was an (even for his times) unusually nasty partisan Democrat. He made Ted Kennedy seem like a gentleman.

Hilts on March 13, 2008 at 8:54 AM

I can’t think of any politician that was more ruthless and mean. Certainly he probably was doing what he thought was right to serve himself, but there you go, a self-serving politician. He took it to a new level, albeit a disgusting and evil level.

To his family, my condolences. To him, good riddance. As a religious person my comment to him, RIP.

cat-scratch on March 13, 2008 at 8:57 AM

Metzenbaum’s passing is a tragedy for his family, but his departure from politics was anything but a tragedy for the nation.

Exactly right.

Mr. Bingley on March 13, 2008 at 9:07 AM

I remember him being on Crossfire one night and telling John Sununu that he was going to punch him in the mouth if John didn’t stop cutting off his long winded spin.

Condolences to anyone who loved him in case there is someone who did.

Greenhorn on March 13, 2008 at 9:09 AM

Wherein I channel Christopher Hitchens’ obituary style.

Sorry Ed, you’re too nice a guy to ever channel Hitchens.

Sure, you don’t like Metzenbaum and feel down right un-Christian for taking pleasure in his death but Hitch would’ve gotten his thumb right into this guys eye and spit on his widow.

Don’t change.

bongo on March 13, 2008 at 9:13 AM

I am sorry for his family’s loss. But, the country is a better place now without his particular contribution to the partisan divide.

hburns on March 13, 2008 at 9:15 AM

Metzenbaum Dies at 90

Wel y’all may want to be nice about it, but I say it happened 30 years too late. Metzenbaum’s nasty, venomous vitriol was beyond the pale. I just hope the prick gets what he deserves on the other side.

Alamo on March 13, 2008 at 9:17 AM

He was in politics too long and did too much damage to this country and it’s values. I will not miss him. Another product of Ohio’s unionize socialist state. Too think there were only about 20,000 people left in that state that saved us from John Kerry. I’m sure there have been 3 times that many illegals or cadavor records brought in to take care of the Ohio “problem.”

wepeople on March 13, 2008 at 9:18 AM

The Clarence Thomas hearings….it doesn’t get much lower than that.

I heard someone compare Thomas and Geraldine Ferraro’s remarks about Obama. This person said “Ferraro’s being widely denounced for saying Obama got where he is only because he’s black. But liberals have said that for decades about Thomas and no one objected when they said it about him.” Good point. Selective outrage.

jeanneb on March 13, 2008 at 9:22 AM

I also despised the Big M when he was in the Senate, but let me say one thing in his favor. When the organization of black social workers announced a policy of opposing adoption of black children by white families, he let them have it. Congress passed a law bearing his name. See this entry.

Attila (Pillage Idiot) on March 13, 2008 at 9:24 AM

Have a nice dirt nap, Howard.

D2Boston on March 13, 2008 at 9:37 AM

He accused Glenn, a Marine Corps test pilot and original astronaut, of never having held a real job, an accusation that infuriated Glenn.

Wow. All I can say.

OneGyT on March 13, 2008 at 9:52 AM

Scent association makes for some strange images.
The exchange you recollect is why I still, to this very day, can’t help thinking of the Thomas Confirmation whenever I change the cat’s litter box.
I wish what I’m saying was a joke.

dougwinship on March 13, 2008 at 10:44 AM

I’ll shed no tears for Metzenbaum. He was the textbook definition of a bitter partisan, putting party ahead of country — nothing was too low for him. In the history of the poisoning of our politics over the last 25-30 years, Metzenbaum will get a chapter of own. And, while he may be gone, his “legacy” lives on in the likes of Chuck Schumer and Pat Leahy.

irishspy on March 13, 2008 at 10:45 AM

Metzenbaum’s passing is a tragedy for his family

A tragedy? He was 90!

Though, I am surprised. I didn’t think anything that evil would ever die.

yo on March 13, 2008 at 10:55 AM

He was unlikeable, he was a smear artist, he was everything we hate in the Democratic party.

RIP.

emailnuevo on March 13, 2008 at 8:53 AM

Yup. . .He taught his children (Kennedy,Schumer,etc) well.

Texyank on March 13, 2008 at 10:57 AM

Metzenbaum was even worse in the Bork hearings. He got a lawyer from some women who had lost a lawsuit in the trial court and in Bork’s Appellate Court to sign a letter written by the lawyer that accused working women of having to choose between a job and being sterlized. It was a dirty smear and typified the Kennedy led smear of Bork.

Larraby on March 13, 2008 at 11:18 AM

I hope when he sees the Founding Fathers, they turn their backs to him…

Tim Burton on March 13, 2008 at 11:52 AM

I’ll always remember him as PJ O’Rourke dubbed him: “the appalling Howard Metzenbaum”

radar g on March 13, 2008 at 12:23 PM

I hope when he sees the Founding Fathers, they turn their backs to him…

Tim Burton on March 13, 2008 at 11:52 AM

What makes you think that he’s going to the place where the Founders are?

Travis Bickle on March 13, 2008 at 12:43 PM

In his youth, wasn’t Metzenbaum affiliated with some communist lawyers organization?

DubiousD on March 13, 2008 at 1:24 PM

Sorry…I think everyone (well, most of the people) on this board have raised valid issues.

But this is not the day for that.

Pretty pathetic, Ed.

asc85 on March 13, 2008 at 1:31 PM

I was raised to not speak ill of the dead, so no comment with regard to the decedent. As far as the Clarence Thomas hearings – our national politics have never recovered from this international embarrasment and loss of any sense of decorum in the public square, and I blame all of the democrats in power at the time for that.

Think_b4_speaking on March 13, 2008 at 2:08 PM

In todays society when a liberal can not win in a face to face fact to fact debate, they will use 1)The race card. 2)Class warfare card. 3)If that fails name calling. Mr Metzenbaum was an inventor of this tactic.

pueblo1032 on March 13, 2008 at 2:40 PM

As a lifelong Ohioan, I find this an interesting topic.

In 1970 Glenn ran for the Democratic nomination to fill the Senate seat held by retiring Democrat Stephen Young. Metzenbaum came out of nowhere, ran a brutal and expensive campaign, and upset Glenn for the nomination. Metzenbaum then lost the general election to Robert Taft, Jr.

After William Saxbe resigned to become Nixon’s attorney general, however, Governor John Gilligan nominated Metzenbaum to fill the empty seat. This obviously did not sit well with Glenn, who challenged Metzenbaum in the 1974 Democratic primary and won. Glenn went on to win the general election.

As it happens, I was 18 in 1974. The 1974 general election wss the first election in which I voted. John Glenn was the first candidate I ever voted for.

NCC on March 13, 2008 at 5:49 PM

excuse me for being rude, but he was an unbelievable piece of shit. i can think of at lease 3 more Dems that id like to see go next, and quickly.

HunnyWaggin on March 13, 2008 at 7:17 PM

Thanks Ohio for another great senator./sarc off
- can’t say anything we gave the world nowit Carter

Branch Rickey on March 14, 2008 at 12:05 AM

Metzenbaum’s passing is a tragedy for his family

A tragedy? He was 90!

Though, I am surprised. I didn’t think anything that evil would ever die.

yo on March 13, 2008 at 10:55 AM

Again, YOU Rock. I am still laughing! lewl!!!!!!

Branch Rickey on March 14, 2008 at 12:09 AM