- By Will InbodenWill Inboden is Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as Associate Professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and Distinguished Scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
A great Texan and great American died yesterday. With the passing of Ambassador Bob Strauss we have lost a faithful public servant, legal entrepreneur, bipartisan statesman, and raconteur of the first order. At 95 years, his life spanned almost an entire century, and his career trajectory from small town Texas to the corridors of power in Washington mirrored the transition of the United States from a regional power to a global superpower.
As testified by many of the obituaries appearing about him today, Strauss embodied many of the unseen yet essential sinews that enable policymaking and government to function. His many cherished friendships and incomparable Rolodex — in a time when people still used Rolodexes — were constantly employed to help resolve disputes, broker back-channel deals, and navigate Washington’s gridlocked bureaucracies and partisan divides.
Strauss also epitomized the possibility of having both partisan loyalties and bipartisan friendships. Though a lifelong Democrat, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and senior Carter administration official, he received a warm welcome in the Reagan White House (perhaps a little too warm for President Jimmy Carter, who quipped, "Bob Strauss is a very loyal friend. He waited a whole week after the election before he had dinner with Ronald Reagan"). Strauss enjoyed such trust and credibility with the Reagans that Mrs. Reagan tasked him with the delicate duty of confronting President Reagan on the severity of the Iran-Contra scandal. A few years later Strauss was appointed by President George H.W. Bush to be the last United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union — and after the USSR’s demise in 1991, Strauss continued on as the first U.S. Ambassador to the new Russian Federation.
A founding partner of the venerable law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Strauss mentored multiple generations of lawyers, entrepreneurs, and policy leaders. His legacy also continues here at the University of Texas-Austin. Not a corner of the campus here at his beloved alma mater has been left untouched by his generosity and vision, including the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law where I am honored to work. I hope that the many testimonials now pouring forth about his life will also prompt reflection on why his bipartisan friendships and perpetual good cheer will be so missed — and what that might tell us about ourselves today.