“A prophet,” said Mgr. Ronald Knox, “is one who speaks out. He must not wrap up his meaning; he must not expect success.”

Like most prophets, Jim Traficant, the legendary Ohio congressman who would have turned 80 next month but for his death in a tractor accident seven years ago, went mostly without honor in his country. He was expelled from the House of Representatives in 2002 and imprisoned for seven years (during which he refused visitors) after being convicted of a number of dubious sounding felonies, one of which involved employing congressional staff on his farm in Ohio and the houseboat which he made his Washington, D.C., residence.

In his lifetime Traficant had few allies in the Democratic party and no following outside his beloved Ohio (unless the handful of journalists who delighted in his ready wit and bizarre personal appearance count). But there is probably no national politician of his era who spoke more forcefully to what would become the concerns of our own. He opposed drugs, free trade, the decline of manufacturing, eviction, our needless and cruel embargo on Cuba, the banks, Wall Street, euthanasia, and, above all, abortion. (He also supported, perhaps to the horror of some of his contemporary admirers, racial preference in college admissions.)

Traficant was born in Youngstown, Ohio, to a working-class Catholic family in 1941. He played quarterback at the University of Pittsburgh with Mike Ditka and was even drafted by the Steelers in 1963. Instead of playing professional football, he became what we would now refer to as a “community organizer” and spent many years working with nonprofits and colleges in the Youngstown area on issues such as drug and alcohol addiction before being elected sheriff of Mahoning County in 1981.

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