There was a place for Alan Dixon in the U.S. Senate in the 1980s. Would that there could be a place for him now.
Not that Dixon, who died on Sunday just one day shy of his 87th birthday, would necessarily have made a better senator than either person -- Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Dick Durbin -- holding the seat in Illinois today. Indeed, in a state whose pantheon of U.S. senators includes Everett Dirksen, Paul Simon, Charles Percy and Adlai Stevenson, any senator from Illinois will have a tough time placing a personal stamp on the office.
But Dixon did practice one art -- that of legislative compromise -- that is in woefully short supply in Washington these days, and perhaps that as much as anything is a legacy of his time in public service that bears remembering and celebrating.
Dixon's 12 years in the U.S. Senate were the culmination of a four-decade career in public service that evokes the image of a man quick to roll up his sleeves -- and get the job done. Whether it was promoting health programs for female veterans, striving to contain medical costs, working to expand agricultural exports, debating crises in the Balkans and the Middle East or any number of topics critical to American stature or the quality of life in Illinois, Dixon was known for integrity and hard work that emphasized solutions over personal credit.
The website govtrack.us, which monitors congressional voting records, ranks Dixon virtually square in the middle of the Democrats and Republicans who served with him in the Senate. It was a record that followed him throughout his career in state politics, beginning with his election to the Illinois House in 1950 and his subsequent roles in the state Senate and offices of treasurer and secretary of state. In an interview last year following publication of his memoir "The Gentleman from Illinois," Dixon told the Belleville News Democrat that a sense of cooperation was commonplace in the U.S. Senate during his time there.
"It was a happy time in those days with good relationships, and a lot of things were solved by quality efforts of both sides working together," he said. "And we need that desperately."
His words, not ours. But we don't hesitate to echo them. Whatever his individual accomplishments on the floor of the Senate, Dixon's distinguishing characteristic may have been embodied in those two important words: "Working together." As we reflect on his passing, we hope more politicians in Washington will come to recognize the value and strength of that phrase.