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Opinion | Richard Shelby’s professionalism, statesmanship will be missed

While I disagree with most of Shelby’s politics, the way he conducts himself is second to none.

Senator Richard Shelby questions Secretary of Defense Ash Carter during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing on the DoD fiscal year 2017 budget request at The Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington D.C., Apr. 27, 2016. Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

Every other day, an email with pretty much the same subject line pops into the inboxes of journalists around Alabama. 

It’s an announcement from Sen. Richard Shelby’s office announcing a grant for this Alabama institution or additional funding for this Alabama project or that a new defense contract has been awarded to this Alabama company. 

It’s like clockwork. And Shelby has a hand in it all – making sure those federal dollars pour into Alabama and benefit the constituents he represents. 

While those emails, and the work they describe, are great, though, it’s the emails that don’t come from Shelby’s office that I’ve come to appreciate more. 

Not a single email attacking immigrants. Nothing on migrant caravans. Not even a cool meme about Hunter Biden’s laptop. 

Has anyone on the right ever stopped to wonder just why that is – why Shelby is so popular among Alabama voters and yet also so sane and subdued? 

The answer is rather simple: Because he does his job. 

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Now, before we get too far into this praise of Richard Shelby, I feel it necessary to point out that from a policy standpoint, and particularly on social issues, Shelby and I likely agree on very few things. In fact, you’d probably be able to count them on one hand. And I should also note that I think Shelby could have, and absolutely should have, done far more to assist the neediest Alabamians during his long, long tenure in Congress. 

So, it’s not exactly like I’m a huge fan of the man’s politics. 

But I am a fan of the way he’s politicked. The respectable manner in which he’s presented himself. The mindful way he’s gone about working for the state. And the admirable way he’s been critical of those in his own party, or taken positions that didn’t align with a majority of his party mates, because he felt it was the right thing to do. 

His refusal to publicly support Roy Moore comes to mind. 

But what I admire most these days about Shelby is that the man does his job without 15 clips per week of him saying something unbelievably stupid or overtly racist or intentionally inflammatory. He doesn’t seek out TV cameras for afternoon hits or get into social media spats with other members of the Senate. 

I mean, think of it like this: If you weren’t aware of the story, and I told you that one of Alabama’s senators said, “Democrats want reparation for the people who do the crime,” which one would you guess said it? 

Not Shelby, right? 

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Not in a million years. Because it’s just not the way he operates. It’s not his style. 

And what in the hell happened to that style? 

When did the Republican Party migrate from the stoic, statesman-like manners of Richard Shelby to the screeching, insane ramblings of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, or the braindead babblings of Tommy Tuberville? 

In many ways, Shelby is a throwback to an era in American government in which the work came first, and it spoke for your effectiveness and your worthiness to be re-elected. Not your ability to say outrageous things or send out really fire tweets or own the libs with a Fox News interview. 

And I’m not sure why anyone wants the latter. 

I mean, just imagine a political world in which every senator and congressperson behaves like Shelby and we treat them like we treat Shelby. We’d have quiet policy discussions that would almost always be respectful and beneficial to the American voter, and no one would ever have to worry again about racist/sexist/idiotic/insanely ignorant/weirdly aggressive/overly hostile remarks. 

Nothing but a whole Congress going to work and trying to get things done for the people they represent. 

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Why do we reward anything else? 

Look, I’m not so naive that I don’t know the game that’s being played now. The one where really inflammatory comments encourage far-right support. And the more outrageous, the more attention. And the more attention, the more votes. 

But we don’t have to live like this. 

There’s nothing stopping any of us from voting for candidates who will simply do the job, do a good job and then go home when it’s time. There’s nothing wrong with demanding that candidates have real policy ideas, and that their entire platform doesn’t begin and end with insults of their opponent. 

And it never hurts to at least have the respect of the voters who land on the other side. 

For decades now, Shelby has mostly done those good things, remaining above the fray and approachable for voters on both sides of the aisle. 

That’s all anyone can ask for. 

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We’re never going to agree on everything. We may never agree on most things. But at the very least, our senators should be cordial and professional. 

Richard Shelby has been. And that’s one reason he’ll be missed.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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