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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

June 16, 1996|CHRIS GOODRICH

COMBAT Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate by Warren Rudman (Random House: $27.50; 275 pp.). "Combat"? It's a peculiar word with which to title a civilian memoir, especially since it concerns an institution once known for its gentility and is written by a man sometimes referred to as the Senate's "conscience." Warren Rudman explains that he chose the title in part because it reflected the identity-shaping influence of his Korean War service, but it also intimates why Rudman left the Senate despite his sterling reputation and broad support among his New Hampshire constituency.

Rudman, a lawyer by training and an independent, pragmatic Republican, could deal with liberal Democrats and partisan demagoguery; what he couldn't stand, in the end, was the growth of the Christian Right and its attempts to legislate morality. The rightward tilt of the Republican Party is only the straw that broke Rudman's senatorial back, however; in "Combat" he describes his involvement in three important affairs--the Gramm-Rudman deficit-reduction legislation, the Iran-Contra investigation, and the Keating Five savings-and-loan debacle--that showed U.S. politics at its worst. (He also describes a fourth, the Supreme Court confirmation of Rudman's best friend David Souter, which had a happy ending.)

Rudman tells these stories well, and it's impossible for the reader not to share his dismay and anger at the low level of contemporary politics. Now in private legal practice, he co-chairs, with former Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas, an organization that seeks to reduce the federal deficit by means-testing entitlements--a perfectly reasonable approach to a major problem that in today's opportunistic political climate is a virtual nonstarter.

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