Yesterday, the long time senator from Hawaii, Daniel Inouye, died. He was 88 and had been in a wheelchair for the last year. So it is not of much surprise. He was a good guy—a reliable liberal voice in the senate. The most famous story about him—which to some extent informed his career—took place after returning to San Francisco, after having lost his right arm in World War II. He walked into a barber shop with his lieutenant’s uniform on, and was told, “We don’t serve Japs here.”
Most obituaries focus on Inouye’s war record, his work with Kennedy, civil rights legislation. But Matt Yglesias focuses on Inouye’s position as president pro tempore of the senate. It meant if the president, vice-president, and Speaker of the House were all killed, Inouye would have been President of the United States—at least until last Money. Now it would be Patrick Leahy. Yglesias is very bothered by this.
There are problems with Presidential Succession Act of 1947. One thing that he mentions is the fact that in a time of crisis the administration could switch parties. For example, if the president and vice-president were both killed, the administration would suddenly be Republican. That would be the last thing we need to deal with in a moment of crisis.
But then Yglesias goes into how the president pro tempore is just a title they give to old senators who are usually inches away from death. This is true. Yglesias writes, “Strom Thurmond served as president pro tempore even after voluntarily relinquishing the right to chair a committee out of recognition of his advanced age and declining capacity for work.” Which, all things considered, is kind of a tacky thing to mention the day after Inouye’s death.
He’s right though. We should do something about this. But is it worth a thousand words? Is this really what the death of Daniel Inouye brings to mind? I don’t want to be one of those people saying it is too soon to talk about the Presidential Succession Act of 1947. But really…