RIP, Sen. James Inhofe (1934-2024)

Not too long ago, I thought back to one of the few men in politics I allowed myself to actually like on a personal basis. Senator James Inhofe had been a frequent guest on my podcasts, and had welcomed me and my wife into his Senate office on a few memorable occasions. Senator Inhofe liked to just converse, not only about important issues at hand but about our families. A visit to his office provided all sorts of pictures and discussion of his family, and it clearly delighted him to proudly talk about all of them.

We hadn’t talked in the last couple of years of his Senate term, and he decided to retire at 87 rather than contend for another term. I hoped that he would have lots of time to spend with his family, but I still missed our discussions. And thus today’s news saddened me more than most obituaries do, perhaps especially in how NBC News and the New York Times summarized Inhofe:

James M. Inhofe, a five-term Republican senator from Oklahoma and, until President Donald J. Trump’s arrival in 2017, arguably Washington’s most prominent denier of the established science of human-generated climate change, died on Tuesday in Tulsa, Okla. He was 89.

His death, in a hospital, was announced in a statement from his family, which said the cause was a stroke.

Ugh. NBC also made sure to get climate change into the lead paragraph as well. Happy warrior on the topic that Senator Inhofe was, I’m not even sure he’d mind that. But the overall impression of these obits is that the media outlets want to get the last word in on one of their betes noires, rather than celebrate a life of service. (David has much more on that in the next post, so be sure to look for it.)

So let me offer a couple of purely personal observations instead, to hopefully give a better sense of the man I encountered rather than just the politician.

In politics, I try to operate with Psalm 146, verse 3 in mind at all times: Put not your trust in princes. I tend to like people with whom I come in contact, an impulse against which I guard when it comes to analysis. And I have enjoyed the company of many politicians in person and in interviews, but try very hard not to become enamored with them. There have been exceptions — one is Norm Coleman, the former senator from my former state, who is one of the smartest and kindest men I’ve met in this business.

And James Inhofe is undeniably another. You can’t help but enjoy his company, his old-world courtliness, and his passion for issues and especially for his family. He was one of the most generous politicians at that level in terms of his time and his hospitality. Whenever I made it into Washington DC, I’d make a point of contacting his office, and he’d welcome me whether we were doing an interview or just chatting. 

Furthermore, one will always be charmed by those who treat a spouse with respect and friendship. My wife’s first reaction to hearing the news was to recall how fond Senator Inhofe was about his family, and how courteously and friendly he treated her. Rick Perry is another of her favorite people from my world for the same reason. 

Now, Senator Inhofe had plenty of work to do, and plenty of friends and family to enjoy without the Morrisseys showing up on his doorstep. I understood that, and would not presume to call myself a friend of his. However, he was unfailingly personable, welcoming, and even joyful when engaging with me, both in person and on calls. One can understand how blessed his friends and family were to have him in their lives. 

And so, I know that James Inhofe will be sorely missed by those family and friends, as well as his colleagues — I suspect even those across the aisle. My condolences go out to all of them, and my wife and I will be praying for the extended family Senator Inhofe dearly loved and in which he took immense pride and joy. Requiescat in pace, Senator, and may flights of angels sing you to your rest. 

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