He was a Republican and a staunch conservative, but he often worked with Democrats, and won their affection. He supported the Iraq War in 2003, but was troubled by the human cost. He was one of President Donald Trump’s most outspoken critics within the GOP, and his death after a long illness leaves an unfillable hole in Congress.
That sounds a lot like a certain senator from Arizona who died recently, but it’s not John McCain—it’s Representative Walter Jones of North Carolina. Jones died Sunday, on his 76th birthday. (Jones’s illness had kept him from Congress since September, though he was easily reelected in November.) Although the late Arizona senator became identified with bucking his party, Jones, far more than McCain, epitomized the “maverick” sobriquet. It’s folly to value heterodoxy for its own sake, but Jones’s ability to make friends and allies across the aisle and to buck his own leaders was a clear, rare demonstration of political courage. Jones was the kind of independent-minded, bipartisan-curious politician whom Americans often say they want but seldom actually elect.
Most Americans knew of Jones—if they knew of him at all—as a driving force behind the bizarre 2003 episode in which Republicans directed the U.S. House cafeteria to change the name of French fries to “freedom fries” as revenge for French opposition to the war in Iraq. (The move was inspired by a restaurant in Jones’s heavily military district in eastern North Carolina.) But “freedom fries” didn’t make for a good epitome of Jones’s political career. They made him appear to be a cartoonish lockstep Republican, when in fact Jones was consistently one of the members of Congress most likely to vote against his party. And they made Jones seem like a super-advocate for the Iraq War, yet he eventually became one of its loudest critics.