Adam Hirst ’10 did not know Charlie as well as I did, but he captured much of what was important, especially that he was a dying breed. Politics has the property of emasculating those who practice it. I have known former politicians, disgraced politicians who could never again be politicians, politicians on their deathbeds, all who have never lost that overwhelming political inhibition and who fear saying anything that might upset even the smallest minority.
Charlie was never inhibited, even when he was up for election. He was pretty fearless too.
Except on matters of defense and foreign policy, Charlie was an unabashed social liberal, supporting abortion rights and the Equal Rights Amendment in a markedly conservative Texas district. It was this lack of inhibition and fearlessness that allowed him to take on the cause of the mujahideen. That and the fact that he was an almost peerless political dealmaker, second only to the other Cold Warrior who passed away last week, John Murtha.
And Charlie was not a womanizer. He simply loved women. He hired them. He promoted them. He moved them onto important jobs outside of his office in Washington. And he did this more, and more tirelessly, than anyone who was not considered a womanizer. And as far as the women with whom he was romantically linked, none of them could say he lied to them or took advantage of them.
He was kind of like Oskar Schindler in that way. His “womanizing” was linked to his humanism. He loved life, and he lived it full throttle. You may even call this a kind of enlightened liberalism; it was this aspect of Charlie that made him a Cold Warrior. He hated communism and socialism because they were so crushing to all that is free and open and expressive.
I remember one night, drinking with him and George Crile and Gus Avrokotos in a strip club in Alexandria, Va., where the belly dancer from “Charlie Wilson’s War” was guest dancing. I said to him, “Charlie, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan was the single most important event leading to the Berlin Wall. You almost single-handedly ended Russian communism, and no one seems to know it.” His answer, “You and I know it, Gerry.”
He was an expert politician, but he did not care much what most people thought of him.
There will not be another one like him.
The writer is a 1977 graduate of Saybrook College.