Whether John R. Bolton is eventually confirmed as ambassador to the United Nations, or whether President Bush decides to withdraw Bolton's nomination, one United States senator will long be associated with this controversial issue: Republican George V. Voinovich.
If it weren't for Voinovich, the former governor of Ohio who is in his second term in Congress, Bolton would have made it through the Foreign Relations Committee last week. Debate in the Senate would now be underway.
But just as committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., was ready to call for a vote -- he was anticipating all 10 Republican members voting yes, and all eight Democrats voting no -- Voinovich spoke up.
It was a statement heard round the country -- if not the world.
"I don't feel comfortable voting today on Mr. John Bolton, and maybe it would be in the best interests of ... this committee to take a little bit more time. I can see that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are very [exorcised] today. I can feel a passion. I have a lot of respect for the ranking member of this committee, I've known him a long time. On occasion he gets political, but I think today he's very sincere about his concerns about this, and I think we all ought to get some more information about this man before we vote him out of this committee."
And in true Voinovich fashion, he disarmed those critics who would have accused him of grandstanding by his quiet demeanor and use of plain language in explaining his decision. Long-time observers of the senator, former governor, lieutenant governor and mayor of Cleveland, were not surprised to hear him talk about applying the "kitchen test" to Bolton, former undersecretary of state for arms control.
"I think one's interpersonal skills and their relationship with their fellow man is a very important ingredient in anyone that works for me," he said to a stunned committee. "I call it the kitchen test. Do we feel comfortable about the kitchen test? I've heard enough today that gives me some real concern about Mr. Bolton."
What's the "kitchen test?" It can best be explained by posing the following question with regard to the nominee: Would Bolton be someone you'd be comfortable inviting into your kitchen for a cup of coffee and a chat?
It was vintage Voinovich. By speaking up when he did, it became clear that Bolton was not going to receive a positive recommendation from the Foreign Relations Committee. Indeed, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska also had voiced misgivings about the nomination and had said that while he was prepared to vote to send it to the Senate floor, he was not sure how he would ultimately vote.
Given the break in the Republican ranks, Chairman Lugar went along with the Democrats, led by Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who suggested a delay while allegations made against Bolton after his appearance before the committee were investigated.
The people of Ohio, who re-elected Voinovich in 2004 with 64 percent of the vote, should be proud of him. His willingness to stand firmly on principle, even when it put him at loggerheads with the president and the GOP leadership, and his genuine concern about the way high-ranking federal officials conduct themselves are worthy of praise.
In a town where power is used as a weapon to destroy one's enemies, Voinovich clearly understands how corrupting such power can be. His refusal to rubber-stamp Bolton's nomination stems from his belief that the person who represents the United States in the United Nations should have the ability and the desire to get along with individuals from varied backgrounds and cultures.
Bolton's supporters, however, insist that he is ideally suited to serve in the U.N. because his abrasive style and his publicly expressed disdain for the world organization would serve notice to the huge bureaucracy to clean up its act.
President Bush should use the next couple of weeks to tell the American people why he nominated Bolton for the ambassadorship and to explain how a bomb-thrower can serve our nation's interests around the world.