Today we bid goodbye to two favorite themes of this column — former U.S. Sen. Dan Coats and my 1974 Ford Maverick.
Before you become alarmed, neither has passed from this earth. Instead, Coats may at last really be retiring from public life, and my Maverick has seen the last of Indiana.
Coats will step down later this month as the director of national intelligence, a role he accepted reluctantly in 2017, out of a sense of duty to his country.
Coats had retired from the U.S. Senate at the end of 2016 and was looking forward to spending summer afternoons watching the Cubs in Wrigley Field. Little did he know that he was too late — the Cubs had reached their peak two months earlier by winning the World Series.
Coats suspected even less that President Donald Trump would ask him to take one of the most vital jobs in protecting America from its enemies. He couldn’t turn it down.
Our former local Congressman must have endured a stressful 2 1/2 years as the price for his patriotism. It’s not clear if he’s being pushed out or leaving from a sense of frustration. I’d like to think it’s his own choice.
Looking back over my 45-year newspaper career, Coats ranks as my favorite interview among state and national elected officials. Of course, it helps that we had 24 years for interviews during his time in the House and Senate — far longer than anyone else.
My chats with Coats felt honest and genuine. I was not getting the same, memorized spiel he delivered an hour ago in another editor’s office. We were having real, give-and-take conversations.
He didn’t seem to fear saying something that might cost him votes. He never did lose an election.
Best of all, Coats never, not once, did anything that required me to ask an uncomfortable question about his conduct, ethics or foot-in-mouth statements.
An article last week in Slate magazine told a story about Coats that was new even to me — a dedicated Coats-watcher.
It said President George W. Bush was ready to nominate Coats for secretary of defense “until a job interview, where Coats displayed insufficient enthusiasm for an elaborate missile-defense system. … Coats’ washout in the audition — his disinclination to say what Bush wanted him to say, just to get the job — spoke well for his character.”
The article suggests that “history might have turned out differently” had Coats been leading the Department of Defense in the Bush administration. Maybe we wouldn’t have started a war in Iraq if Coats had been there to insist on the truth.
Coats proved over the past 2 1/2 years that he would not budge from his convictions.
At its beginning, the Slate article says, “the sin of Dan Coats … is that he told Trump too many unsettling facts.”
A sad fact for America is that Coats and others with his soft-spoken integrity rarely are considered as possibilities for the White House, since humility seems to be an automatic disqualification.
Speaking of humility, the most humble antique car on the road has reached its retirement home at my son’s place in northeastern Georgia.
You’ve been forced to read often about my misadventures with the 1974 Maverick over the past two decades.
Its finest moment in the press came in a different newspaper, however. In the late 2000s, the Indianapolis Star carried a color photo of the Mav with its driver at the time, my youngest son, Dan, in a feature article about Hoosiers who hang onto oddball cars.
On those rare times when the Maverick was running smoothly enough to go out in public, it never failed to start a conversation by stirring up memories in people who saw it: “I used to drive one of those,” or “My dad had one of those.”
Now, its new owner, middle son Drew, also can say his dad had one of those. In fact, so did his grandfather, who passed the Maverick down to me. That’s why it never was for sale, even though people often knocked on my door to make offers.
The Maverick has moved south to make room in the driveway for my new form of insanity, a work-in-progress 1976 Chevy El Camino. Why? At least partly because my Dad had one of those.