William S. Cohen is a white guy from Bangor.
In high school he was known as “Bangor Billy” because of his sharpshooting ability on the basketball court. He went to Bowdoin College, where he received degrees in Latin and Greek and learned to write poetry, and then to Boston University, where he obtained a law degree.
He practiced law and went into politics, walking around the district to find out what was on peoples’ minds and become a Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
In 1974, while a representative, Cohen became involved in the impeachment of President Richard Nixon, presenting evidence and voting in favor of impeachment. Hillary Rodham was a legal adviser to the House Judiciary committee at the time.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton named then-three-term Sen. Cohen to be his secretary of defense. It was the first time in modern U.S. history that a President named an elected official of the opposition party to his cabinet. While serving as secretary of defense, Cohen met Eric Holder.
Eric Holder is a black guy from New York City.
He played basketball at Stuyvesant High School and went to Columbia University, where he received a degree in history and then a law degree in 1976. After law school, Holder joined the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, which had just been formed to investigate and prosecute corrupt government officials.
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan appointed Holder an associate judge of the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. In 1993, President Clinton named Holder U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. In 1997, President Clinton named Holder deputy attorney general, the second highest position in the Department of Justice.
In 2001, President George W. Bush asked Holder to stay on as acting attorney general during the transition between administrations. During the 2008 campaign, Holder was a member of the three-person search committee that helped Barack Obama choose a running mate. One of the people that committee seriously considered was Bill Cohen. In 2009, President Obama named Eric Holder the 82nd attorney general of the United States.
On Oct. 23, Holder delivered the seventh Cohen Lecture at the University of Maine in Orono. The Cohen Lecture Series celebrates the life and career of Bill Cohen by focusing on themes of democracy, the rule of law and the elimination of racism and poverty.
In his remarks, Cohen described himself as a Maine Republican. He lamented the extent to which the Republican Party has drifted to the right, and lamented the way that political discourse has descended into a shouting match. He said he welcomed good ideas whether they came from Republicans or Democrats, and he observed that what distinguishes the United States is that people of quality are able to rise here like nowhere else.
Cohen quoted Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation about how the arc of history bends toward justice. He quoted Robert F. Kennedy, who consoled the country on the occasion of Dr. King’s assassination with thoughts of his own brother’s death and a call to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of the world. He described Attorney General Holder as the right man for the job of leading the Department of Justice to face the challenge of terrorism while remaining true to the ideal of the rule of law.
In his speech, Holder assured his audience that his first priority is to keep the country safe. He confirmed that the threat of terrorism is real and said that we have to respond to it effectively, but also consistently with our ideals. Foremost among those ideals is the rule of law.
Holder talked about how our Founders created something new and different from the governments of kings and queens that they had known. They created a government of laws, not men. That principle is what distinguishes us from our enemies. Holder emphasized that we must not sacrifice it in order to ensure our safety.
Holder explained how lawyers at the Department of Justice ensure the rule of law. They coordinate and oversee the investigation of terrorists to make sure that those investigations are effective and lawful. For example, those attorneys protect civil liberties by ensuring that investigators act on the basis of specific information, not stereotypes.
It is a good day for our republic when two people from different backgrounds and parties can come together for a thoughtful discussion of serious issues and for the defense of our country.