U.S. Sen. Bill Frist takes his share of licks from these pages and elsewhere, and most of them are richly deserved, given his P.T. Barnum-like penchant for self-promotion. Last week, however, the national press ran Frist, who is also the Senate majority leader, through the wringer becausewe hope you are sitting down for thishe openly campaigned against Senate minority leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, in Daschle's home state.
"Shattering precedent" (Raleigh News and Observer) and "in a break with bipartisan traditions in the U.S. Senate" (Reuters), Frist "broke protocol" and "bruised some feelings" (Washington Post) by campaigning for Daschle challenger John Thune in South Dakota over the weekend.
A New York Times headline even made it seem like Frist was violating some kind of underworld code: "Daschle Has Race on His Hands and Interloper on His Turf." Daschle's "turf"? What is heAl Capone?
Closer to home, the left-liberal Times side of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press editorial page took a spectacularly silly swipe at Tennessee's senior senator: "Mr. Frist('s)...indecorous, aggressively partisan and unprecedented attack on his Democratic counterpart is snarling the Senate's legislative calendar and creating an atmosphere of distrust and resentment in the Senate's chambers that can only worsen as the November elections near. Sen. Frist's attempt to sabotage Mr. Daschle's re-election campaign...undermines the crucial comity that has traditionally allowed senators of all persuasions to coalesce with some degree of bipartisanship to conduct the nation's vital business."
Um...right. Try as we might, we really can't figure out what the big deal is. Bill Frist is the leader of the Senate Republicans. Tom Daschle is the leader of the Senate Democrats. The Republicans have a mere one-seat majority in the Senate, and Daschle's seatwhich would very likely be a solid Republican seat but for the presence of Daschleis ripe for the plucking. It's only to be expected, therefore, for Frist to campaign against Daschle. If the situation were reversed, you can bet that Daschle would be doing the same thing (with probably a lot less harrumphing from the Washington Post and New York Times).
It may be unprecedented, but has it ever occurred to anyone that maybe the reason something like this hasn't happened in the past is because Senate leaders almost always have very safe seatsi.e., seats the other party doesn't consider worth contesting in the first place? Perhaps this "tradition" has not been so much an unwritten rule as a convenient excuse for steering clear of a pointless political battle.
As for Frist somehow single-handedly destroying the very foundations of Senate decorum, keep in mind that this is the same body that brought us the trial of impeached President Bill Clinton, the Clarence Thomas hearings, the Red-baiting Joseph McCarthy and former Ku Klux Klan kleagle Robert Byrd. Something tells us the Senate will also survive Bill Frist tooling around Rapid City and Sioux Falls on behalf of John Thune.
More than we wanted to know
Political parties have a habit of sending out fund-raising letters disguised as "voter surveys," wherein recipients are asked their opinions on a wide variety of issues and then to return the completed survey along with a contribution check to ensure that the "(Republican/Democrat) message gets delivered to the voters." Recently, something called the "Republican Presidential Task Force" sent one such survey with questions on over 20 issues ranging from terrorism to Social Security to health care to abortion. Surprisingly, though, nowhere in the survey is there any mention of homosexual marriage. This is odd, considering that gay marriage is supposedly a hot button topic (and wallet-loosener) among the GOP rank-and-file this year. Has someone way up in the "Republican Presidential Task Force" hierarchythe president himself maybeput the kibosh on anti-gay rhetoric this year, perhaps for very private reasons?
Political Notes believes the answer to that question is a definite "yes," based upon President Bush's visit to Nashville last week, during which he inadvertently (we assume) shared something very personal about himself none of us had heretofore known.
"I want to thank my friend, Sen. Bill Frist, for joining us today," Bush said at Vanderbilt last Thursday. "He married a Texas girl, I want you to know. Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."
It's OK, Mr. President. We accept you for who you are. Well, some of us anyway.
Johnny come lately
You won't find it anywhere in Robert's Rules of Order, but apparently the Metro Council has established its own procedural rule for members who don't show up for hearings on their own bills. Known among members as the "John Summers Rule," it works like this: If you don't have time for your own legislation, then you can't expect anyone else to give a rat's behind about it either, and so it gets booted off the meeting's agenda. It's a welcome infusion of efficiency for a body notably lacking same, but the jury is still out on whether it has changed the habits of the notoriously unpunctual Summers.
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