Editorial: Carl Levin was a man for Michigan

The Detroit News

It's not quite true that Michigan's Carl Levin eschewed partisanship, as many offering tributes to the former senator contend.

He was a fiercely loyal Democrat and promoted his party's interests faithfully during his 36 years in the U.S. Senate, rarely failing to push the blame for the nation's ills onto the laps of Republicans. 

What Levin hated was the poisonous politics that were already withering Washington when he decided to retire in 2015 — the instinct to destroy those on the other side of the aisle rather than find common ground on which to stand.

Carl Levin died Thursday at age 87. His was a life lived well, and one that greatly benefited Michigan.

Levin believed in cordiality and consensus building, and in getting a deal done. If the deal leaned toward his advantage, all the better.

That desire to get things done was one reason he maintained close relationships with so many Republicans — that and the fact he was a genuinely decent human being.

More:Former U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan's longest-serving senator, dead at 87

Levin's strength was his down-to-earth style. He was approachable and self-deprecating — he described himself as "plump, balding and disheveled." Voters could relate, and opponents too often underestimated him.

That everyman demeanor masked Levin's true advantage — his intellect. He was among the brightest members of the Senate, and believed the key to winning was having a superior argument. Levin was rarely outmatched in a debate.

The senator was courageous in defense of his principles.

He cast an unpopular vote against the Iraq War in 2002 because he believed the fight belonged to the Iraqis. He also bucked his party and voted against former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's removal of the filibuster for some appointees because he feared what it would do to the institution. 

Levin went to the Senate in 1979 from the Detroit City Council, where he served as one of the body's most effective members, acting as a powerful counter to then-Mayor Coleman A. Young.

In the Senate, he was assigned to Armed Services, and twice served as that committee's chairman, advocating for a military well equipped to defend America, but not for foreign adventuring.

Levin was an old-school liberal, and for most of his career he stood to the left of mainstream Michigan.

That didn't matter much to voters, who recognized him as a man of character who was truly concerned with their well-being. They gave him six terms in the Senate, making him the longest-serving senator in Michigan history. 

Unlike many politicians who go to Washington and put down their roots there, Levin never was long absent from Michigan. He was deeply involved in the everyday challenges facing the state, and leveraged his considerable influence to advance Michigan's interests.

He committed himself to protecting the Great Lakes, and to boosting Michigan's defense industry. 

Levin played a key role in navigating the hurdles in Washington during Detroit's bankruptcy. The senator proved again during those difficult days that he was someone who could get things done.

Carl Levin died Thursday at age 87. His was a life lived well, and one that greatly benefited Michigan.