Portland, Oregon - Every time a soldier from Oregon dies in the Iraq war, Senator Gordon Smith calls up the mother or surviving spouse, and commiserates. His son killed himself four years ago, he tells them. He knows what it's like to lose a boy.
He has made this call 103 times. Inevitably, after the tears and the awkward pauses, they ask him this question about their lost loved one in Iraq: was it worth it?
"I wish I could tell them what they want to hear," said Senator Smith, a Republican. "I wish I could tell them something else. I say, 'I hope history proves me wrong, but...' " and then he trails off.
Later, on the floor of the Senate, he said the words that are still echoing around the political world:
"I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs day after day. This is absurd. It may even be criminal."
It was that last word that set people on fire. Conservatives called him a traitor - to the party, the country. Liberals embraced him. Bring on impeachment!
If anything, the senator feels stronger today than he did then, though he said he would change one word in his speech. "If I could take back any word, it would be 'criminal,' " he said. "I'd replace it with the word 'insane.' "
The war has started to resemble a postapocalyptic sci-fi film like "Blade Runner." Here is a troubled superpower headed by a pair of delusional men, with a rag-tag army fighting a constant low-grade insurgency. The cause has long since been forgotten, the slogans are hollow, death lurks around every shadowy corner.
But if we are to retrieve our honor, to restore our place in the world, to make good on those lost Oregon lives, it may be because people like Gordon Smith couldn't take it any more, that he finally said enough - bring the kids home.
Add one more Republican Senator to the "Good" list. With Hagel, that makes two, but the number is increasing though not exactly by leaps and bounds.