A lot of observers were surprised when Sen. Joe Lieberman was allowed to keep his committee chairmanship after endorsing John McCain and speaking at the Republican Convention. But that act of magnanimity is nothing compared to the love fest going on right now for convicted felon Sen. Ted Stevens, who was finally declared the loser in his re-election race. Stevens received a standing ovation in the Senate and then an hours-long tribute from grateful Democrats and Republicans alike.
"Ted Stevens personified a person with real guts," said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT). He referred to Stevens as "one of the greatest men I ever met. He never held a grudge against anybody, and he was always there to lend a helping hand and give good advice. Ted, I believe this cloud will be lifted from you and it should be."
Sen. Orrin Hatch referred to Stevens as "one of the greatest men I ever met."
Hatch's was one of the more pedestrian speeches in praise of Stevens, who was recently found guilty of covering up gifts from an Alaska oil company. Take, for instance, the honeyed words of Jim Bunning (R-KY).
"I have found Ted Stevens to be the most straightforward, honest senator that I have ever dealt with," Bunning said. "He has given me—just by association for the last 10 years—the basis on which I serve here in the U.S. Senate. He has given me the example. He has given me the principles and the things that each and every one of us here on the senate floor should demonstrate daily."
Bunning's speech was representative of the overriding theme during the love-fest for the longest serving GOP Senator in history: “If only you knew the Ted Stevens like I knew…”
"I don't know who sang the song 'You Don't Know Me’...but at any rate you don't know him. You really don't know him. This is a man with a very gruff exterior but he's a teddy bear when you really get to know him," said Pat Roberts (R-KS).
Another senator facing potential trouble, Norm Coleman (R-MN), expressed similar thoughts:
"He's got the veneer of a tough guy and Ted Stevens can be tough...Those of us who know him also see the love that's in his heart, reflected in love of country, love of family." Larry Craig, the outgoing senator from Idaho, also offered a toast that he himself is not likely to receive from his GOP colleagues.
Lest one think this was strictly a Republican affair, long-serving Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) jumped on the bandwagon with his own emotional tribute to Stevens' advocacy for indigenous peoples.
If there's one thing you can say about the senate it's that they don't dwell on the recent past. As Stevens himself put it today: "I don't have a rearview mirror. I look only forward. And I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me."
Benjamin Sarlin covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com. He is a graduate of Vassar College.