Christopher Dodd: a worldview shaped by his father and fatherhood.
The five-term Connecticut senator is a strong Roman Catholic who showed an early commitment to social justice.
DES MOINES, IOWA — Two days after terrorists imploded the World Trade Center and left a gaping hole in the Pentagon, Christopher Dodd became a father for the first time. His daughter Grace was born in Arlington, Va. That, in part, explains why the Connecticut Democrat, now in his early 60s, crisscrosses Iowa in what many say is a quixotic quest for the presidency.
"We could still see the Pentagon smoldering from that hospital," says Senator Dodd in a Monitor interview. "And I asked myself the question that parents have over the ages, 'What kind of a world is this child arriving in?' And then, 'What are you going to do about it?' "
The scion of a staunchly Roman Catholic family dedicated to public service, education, and the law, the five-term senator is running at the bottom of the polls – at 1 percent. He says repeatedly that he's driven not by any long-cherished desire to be president. Yet he's moved his family from a historic converted schoolhouse overlooking the Connecticut River to a rental in Iowa, stumping from dawn in Des Moines to long past dark in Sioux City. The reasons, he says, are Grace and his second daughter, as well as a deep belief in the rule of law, which was instilled in him by his father.
Time and again at cafes, libraries, and colleges, Dodd cites the war in Iraq, the scandals of Abu Ghraib, the Central Intelligence Agency's secret prisons, and the Bush administration's wiretapping without warrants of millions of Americans as proof that the nation must "regain its moral footing."
"Over the past six years, this administration has waged an assault on the Constitution," he told a packed coffeehouse in Des Moines in early December. "They're selling a false dichotomy that in order for us to be more secure, we're going to have to give up some rights. I believe the opposite is true: If you give up your liberty and your rights, you become far less secure."
Lessons from Nuremberg
Perhaps more than any other presidential candidate running, Dodd has values steeped in and shaped by history. He's the fifth of six children born to Grace Murphy Dodd, a teacher, and Thomas Dodd, a federal prosecutor who took on the Ku Klux Klan in the 1930s. The elder Mr. Dodd then rose to become a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials in the 1940s, as well as a US senator known as an early and vocal champion of the oppressed in the former Soviet Union.
When Christopher was just 14 months old, his father left for what was to be a two-week assignment doing the initial interrogations of the 21 Nuremberg defendants. They included Hermann Goering, who was second in command of the Third Reich; Wilhelm Keitel, Adolf Hitler's chief of staff; and Rudolf Hess, Hitler's first deputy of the Nazi Party.
Thomas Dodd's skill as an interrogator of what he called "the Nazi big boys" and his adept legal mind were quickly recognized by America's No. 1 Nuremberg prosecutor, Justice Robert Jackson. As a result, those two weeks stretched to 15 months, and the senior Dodd soon became Justice Jackson's right-hand man.
When Dodd Sr. rose for the first time to address the international court, "He charged the Nazis, among many other heinous crimes, with 'the apprehension of victims and their confinement without trial, often without charges, generally with no indication of the length of their detention,' " Dodd writes in "Letters From Nuremberg," a collection of his father's letters to his mother during the post-World War II trial.
When the trial ended, President Truman awarded the older Dodd the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Christopher, meanwhile, at home in Lebanon, Conn., was just learning to walk.
Upon his father's return, Christopher became what his family called "his shadow," following him everywhere he went. Throughout the years, he also became a student of his father's thinking.
"I wish I could tell you how many times I heard my father tell the six of us at the dining-room table, had there been an international criminal court in the 1920s, maybe, just maybe the horrors of the Holocaust of the 1930s and '40s might have been avoided," he told an overflow crowd at a Des Moines synagogue earlier this month.
Family conversations usually focused on current events, Dodd says, although the lessons of Nuremberg and World War II were central to the way his father explained them. So, too, was his Catholic faith, according to Dodd's older sister Martha Buonanno.
"My parents were active churchgoers. They really practiced their religion," says Ms. Buonanno. "Social justice issues were very important to them. You can't grow up listening to that stuff without assimilating it."
Indeed, Dodd says his passion for the law, social justice, and working for the common good comes from the way he was raised. They help form what he calls his "DNA" and have also prompted his run for the presidency.
"I thought about how my father would react [to the Guantánamo detention camp and Abu Ghraib and secret prisons,]" he writes in "Letters From Nuremberg." "I felt I had to press the fight further."
A peace corps 'epiphany'
After graduating from a Jesuit prep school outside Washington, Dodd went on to Providence College in Rhode Island, a Catholic school run by Dominican friars. From there, he went on to serve two years in the Peace Corps in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. He helped build a school, a maternity clinic, and a youth organization. He also urged everyone he could to get an education, according to Domingo Tejada. He was a teenager "going nowhere" when Dodd came to his small village and lived with his family.
"Christopher pressed me to learn English so I could build a better life," says Mr. Tejada, who now owns a real estate company in Reading, Pa. "I am who I am today because of Christopher Dodd. He helped me and a lot of people in my country."
On the campaign trail, Dodd repeatedly refers to his Peace Corps experience. At Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Dodd tells a crowd of more than 100 that he came home a "very changed person."
"It was my epiphany: I remembered what it was to be an American, to be optimistic and confident even at a time [when] the Vietnam War was raging and we were divided," he says. "There was a sense that we were doing good things for our country and for others."
From the Peace Corps, Dodd went to law school and served in the Army National Guard and the Reserve during the 1960s and '70s. He earned a law degree at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, and in 1974, he was elected to the US House of Representatives from Connecticut. He easily won reelection and went on to serve in the US Senate starting in 1980.
After a divorce from his first wife in 1982, Dodd was known as one of the Senate's most eligible bachelors, dating the likes of Bianca Jagger and Carrie Fisher. At the same time, he earned the reputation as "the children's senator" for his fierce advocacy of education, child-care, and family issues.
In 1999, he married Jackie Clegg, the former chief operating officer of the Export-Import Bank of the United States. Their daughter Grace is now 6 years old, and Christina is 2. "I'm probably the only presidential candidate who receives regular mailings from both the AARP and diaper services," he jokes.
A confident Catholic
Dodd views himself as a serious and committed Roman Catholic. He calls the church his "spiritual home." But in his 30-plus years in public service, he has never "worn his faith on his sleeve," according to Howard Reiter, a political scientist at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Dodd is comfortable with the fact that his wife, Ms. Clegg, is a Mormon.
Last spring, at a round table on faith in public life at Boston College, Dodd talked extensively about how his faith "strongly informs" and "guides" his decisionmaking. It taught him "to promote the common good, social justice, and to do everything possible to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable," he says.
Yet he believes strongly in the separation of church and state – but says it shouldn't be a solid, impermeable wall. He describes it as a window through which each side can watch and stay informed about the other.
"It's not a window that you can open, but in your public decisions, there's got to be some reflection [of religious beliefs]. Decisions have to be at least informed by them," he says during an interview. "But if you start getting overly defined by your religious views, then I think you've crossed over the wall."
Dodd favors abortion rights, a stance that has at times made him feel isolated because it puts him at odds with the teachings of the Catholic Church. Yet he's adamant that the difference in opinion will not affect his belief in God.
"I finally had to say, 'Was this my faith or not?' " he says. "If I was going to be driven out of my faith because some priest or monsignor or bishop was issuing press releases about me, then how deep was my faith then? So I got over that problem a long time ago."
Dodd also points, half-jokingly, to "divine intervention, of sorts" for his first committee assignments in the Senate. The Democrat was elected during a Republican landslide, and as a junior member of a minority party, he was given no choices.
"I was told I could sit on the Banking Committee. There was a seat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a seat on the Health, Education, and Labor Committee, and that was it," he says. And yet, "those committee assignments gave me a chance to be involved in questions that were tremendously important."
Dodd started the Senate's first Children's Caucus and fought for seven years for the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. As a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee, he points out that "I've been involved in every major foreign-policy" debate since 1980. And as chairman of the Banking Committee, he's been instrumental in passing legislation to help deal with the subprime mortgage crisis.
Professor Reiter calls Dodd a liberal, but also a "pragmatic" politician. "There's a middle-of-the-road stripe that's not always evident from his rhetoric," he says.
On the Hill, Dodd is known as an affable colleague who's willing to work with the opposition to get things done. As he travels through Iowa, he frequently cites that ability to work with others – and his long political experience – as reasons that he'd make a good president.
"People look to Iowans because you've always done this more deliberately. You haven't been overly impressed by money or celebrity," he tells a dinner-time crowd in Pella, Iowa. "You've sent forth candidates who were not the first choice coming in, but were the candidates who ought to lead because of what they brought to their candidacy and the kind of hope they brought to the country. So I'm asking you for your vote: I need your help here."