The Death of the Last Northern White Rhino
September 28, 2016 (Fault Lines) — I need a metaphor to describe my feelings about the death of former Congressman, and my dear friend, Bill Barrett. To me, his passing is like the death of the last northern white rhino.* There are only three of these magnificent creatures left in this world.
In every way, Bill was “Mr. Republican.” One need only read his obituary in the New York Times to understand what that meant in practical terms. For now, it is enough say that in Congress, he was elected president of his freshman congressional class rather than Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who eventually became Speaker of the House.
While Bill was a canny politician, Bill understood the difference between politics and law. He respected that difference. For example, he understood that in Nebraska impeachment proceedings are essentially legal proceedings as they are tried before the Nebraska Supreme Court.
When it really counted, Bill’s staunch support for the rule of law over petty partisan politics was unyielding. It resulted in asserting articles of impeachment against Nebraska’s Republican Attorney General. That act of courage caught the attention of the New York Times and many others. It was the act of a statesman.
When the last great white rhino is gone, our world will be diminished. That’s the way I feel today on the occasion of Bill’s funeral.
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge (Nebraska)
*I am not unaware that my choice of the metaphor “rhino” may sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to many of today’s Republicans. So be it.