INDIANAPOLIS – It’s a pity people can’t choose the time in which they live – and serve.
Years ago, I debated Susan Brooks.
It was long before she became a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from central Indiana. At the time, she was U.S. attorney for the southern district of Indiana and a former deputy mayor of Indianapolis. I was the executive director of what was then the Indiana Civil Liberties Union.
We debated the Patriot Act, a flawed law produced by a panicky Congress and President George W. Bush in the anxious days following 9/11.
I went after the law’s overreaches – the parts allowing for warrantless searches and secret courts with secret proceedings. Brooks made the case for allowing government to perform its most basic function, protecting the nation.
Neither of us drew blood, but neither of us tried.
She knew the law had some bad sections and didn’t try hard to defend them. I knew the attacks on our country on Sept. 11, 2001, demanded a response from the federal government and didn’t call for throwing out the entire law.
At one point, Brooks set a rhetorical trap for me. I parried with a joke. She laughed along with the crowd.
We exchanged a smile, two pros approaching a problem from different ends, both trying to find a solution.
I left the debate impressed with her. She seemed a thoughtful, reasonable person with an open and far-reaching mind.
Just the kind of person one wants making tough decisions that affect a lot of people.
About a decade later, she ran for Congress and won.
It was 2012, the year Barack Obama won re-election. Brooks’ Republican Party had redefined itself at the national level solely in opposition to Obama. The GOP’s focus was on blocking Obama’s every move.
It was not an environment conducive to Brooks displaying her formidable skills. She never looked comfortable playing the partisan hitwoman. One sensed she wanted to create a space for herself like the ones her fellow Hoosiers Richard Lugar and Lee Hamilton had occupied. She wanted to be a rational honest broker who could bring people together to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
She didn’t want to scorch the earth.
But she served in an era in which too many leaders in both parties thought the only way to save the village was to destroy the village.
It got worse.
In 2016, Donald Trump became the new face of the Republican Party.
Brooks, along with many other women in the GOP, found themselves in the position of having to endorse or at least with their silence, condone a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women, among his many other offenses.
Brooks made some attempts to break out.
When Trump tabbed Indiana Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate in 2016, Brooks tried to become the new Republican candidate for governor. Eric Holcomb, a man a decade her junior, edged her out.
She also helped lead the Tuesday Group, a faction of moderate Republicans in the House. Its meetings must have been among the most lonely and frustrated gatherings in America.
Trapped in a House and a party determined to pursue the Hatfield-McCoy model of conflict resolution with no other office open as a possibility, Brooks decided to pack it in.
In another period of American history, she might have carved out a great legislative career as a problem-solver and consensus-creator.
Instead, it was her misfortune to serve in a time when Americans would rather shout than talk. It was her even greater misfortune to be a member of a party that has come to view honest differences of opinion as something akin to heresy, if not treason.
It was a moment and role for which she was ill-suited.
She isn’t and never has been a good hater.
So, Susan Brooks exits.
It’s a pity people can’t choose the time in which they live.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.