There are very few originals in America politics anymore. Most of our elected officials tend to look and sound like.
One of the true originals is former Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson.
Charlie served a rural East Texas district with great distinction and great flare for 24 years prior to his retirement form Congress in 1996.
He is the subject of a new movie, "Charlie Wilson’s War," to be released this December. Tom Hanks plays Charlie and Julia Roberts is his love interest. And just recently, the 74 year-old Charlie has added a new dramatic chapter to his already extraordinary life…he received a heart transplant in late September and is convalescing near the Houston hospital where the surgery was performed.
I know Charlie as a former colleague and a friend. The rest of the country will soon know him too.
The movie is based on a book by the same title. It chronicles how one Congressman who served on the House Appropriations Committee championed the cause of Afghan rebels when their country was occupied by the former Soviet Union during the 1980’s. It demonstrates how one man can make a difference.
Charlie made sure that the Afghan rebels got U.S.-made stinger missiles. It was these missiles, which are fired from the shoulder by a lone soldier, which started knocking feared Soviet helicopter gun ships out of the sky. These missiles and other weapons that Charlie convinced our government to send to the rag-tag rebel army ultimately drove the Soviets out of Afghanistan in what turned out to be their Vietnam.
CBS’s "60 Minutes," which rarely has anything nice to say about an incumbent officeholder, featured Charlie in one of its segments. It quoted the late president of Pakistan, in one of his final interviews, saying simply "Charlie did it." The entire 60 Minutes segment could have been a re-election campaign spot for Charlie---it was that good.
A graduate of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Rep. Wilson had a well-deserved reputation as “Goodtime Charlie.” He was both a playboy and a legislative genius who quietly worked behind the scenes to improve the U.S. military and to make sure that key allies like the Afghan rebels and Israel had the military support they needed to survive in a hostile environment.
Divorced part way through his Congressional career, Charlie never tried to hide the fact that he liked beautiful women and a good drink of whiskey. His Baptist constituency in East Texas forgave Charlie his sins because he delivered for the home folks (particularly the large senior citizen population in his district) and because he was not a hypocrite. His flamboyant life style was out in public for everyone to see. Also, it didn’t hurt that he was a dedicated anti-communist in a state where people really would rather be dead than red.
Charlie was one of the shrewdest and finest public servants I have ever met. He was always willing to help a younger colleague with advice and his word was good. If he told you he would do something, he did it or went down trying.
Charlie came from a conservative district but he had a good civil rights record and a good labor record. He knew who his friends were and he stuck by them in tough times.
Charlie left Congress in 1996 to look after his health and to make some money as a lobbyist. Ultimately, he married a terrific lady and moved back to East Texas as his health problems increased. After all, everyone knew Charlie had a lot of hard miles on him.
Now Charlie is on the mend and come December the whole country will get a close up view of one of the true originals in American politics.
We are a better country because Charlie Wilson served his nation in uniform and in the Halls of Congress. Politics would be a lot more fun too if we had just a few more Charlie Wilsons.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.