A Times Editorial
© St. Petersburg Times, published June 7, 2001
In his first speech as Senate majority leader, Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said Wednesday he intended to keep in mind what he had been taught by one of his Washington mentors, the legendary Floridian Claude Pepper. Pepper could be as fiercely partisan as anyone on matters of principle, Daschle recalled, but he counseled that getting the people's business done ultimately depended less on whether members of Congress were Ds or Rs than whether they were Ds or Cs.
Cs -- constructive leaders -- work together, whether they were Democrats or Republicans, Daschle said Pepper told him. Ds -- destructive politicians of both parties -- block progress. Daschle promised to work constructively with Senate Republicans to find consensus on issues such as energy policy and a patient's bill of rights.
Of course, talk of bipartisanship is always cheap in Washington, but Daschle has earned a reputation as a calm pragmatist during his 22 years in Congress. He may wind up practicing what Pepper preached.
At least Daschle has set a better tone than the man he replaced as majority leader, Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss. In his parting shot last week, Lott declared that Republicans "must begin to wage the war" against Democrats. He said he was issuing a "call to action" in "a great and worthy struggle."
That's the sort of intemperance that has alienated many moderates -- including Vermont Sen. James Jeffords, who upset the Senate's balance of power when he renounced the Republican Party and became an independent.
Many Republicans are taking a different tone from Lott's. Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., warned his fellow Republicans not to "get sidetracked with issues of retribution." Even President Bush seems to have rediscovered the spirit of bipartisanship he misplaced somewhere between the end of last fall's campaign and the beginning of his occupancy of the White House. He's back to breaking bread with potential adversaries such as Daschle, Jeffords and maverick Arizona Sen. John McCain, and he's talking of "putting together coalitions" with "a spirit of results."
After years of destructive divisions in Washington, most Americans surely will welcome this week's bipartisan rhetoric. But as to whether all the sweet talk really means the Senate's Ds and Rs are turning into Cs, well, we'll believe it when we C it.