Someone came up with a saying some time ago. I think it went
something like, "Three Strikes, You’re Out."
Apparently Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is a little weak on
his baseball (or modern crime fighting) colloquialisms. A little
weak in the leadership department also, if the current direction
of the U.S. Senate is any indication.
Ah, remember with me if you will the halcyon days of
yesteryear when we actually talked about a veto-proof majority
in the Senate. The House may be a dead heat as far as numbers
go, but it was the Senate that could be reliably expected to
remain in Republican hands. It would be the bulwark against any
eventual Democratic takeover of the House. Indeed, 60 Republican
senators didn’t seem all that out of reach.
But then Trent came to bat. Either it was fate, crafty
Democrats or maybe just dumb luck that blew three fast balls
over the plate that is Senator Trent Lott.
And we’re not talking little strikes on Lott’s part here,
either. If it was a matter of Lott’s affinity for saying the
wrong thing at the wrong time or some other minor misstep, that
could be forgiven. Lott, you will recall, allowed, in the early
days of the 2000 presidential campaign, a gun-control bill to
come to the floor that was tied 50-50. This gave Vice President
Al Gore the opportunity to "look Presidential" by
riding into the Senate on his white horse and break the tie.
Then there was Lott’s appeal to the military to "get
real" during the Kelly Flinn Air Force affair. Slip ups
like these have been all but forgotten.
Of course this isn’t about Lott’s ability to be a good
Senator. He has arguably done a laudable job representing his
constituents in Mississippi. His voting record was solidly
conservative before he became Majority Leader. Lott has received
universal praise for his ability to play the inside game. You
could even argue it’s the Senate Majority Leaders job to
maintain the facade of neutrality on many issues.
But Trent Lott has shown a remarkable inability to get things
done in the U.S. Senate as the lead Republican. Take a look at
just a small part of the Lott record (and let’s keep it to the
last six months – we only have a limited amount of time),
Trent Lott took over the Senate in 1996 with a 55-45 edge.
Now, after just three election cycles with Lott in control of
the Republican caucus, the split stands at 50-50.
In just the last two election cycles Republicans have lost
such institutional names as William Roth of Delaware (while the
Republican at-large congressman was coasting to a 37-point
victory), Washington’s Slade Gorton and New York’s Al D’Amato
(remember Alfonse?) in addition to first-termers such as Rod
Grams of Minnesota.
If it was a nationwide trend it would almost be tempting to
say there was little the Republican leadership could do about
it. Too bad for Lott there is the junior senator from
Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum. While Bush went on to lose
Pennsylvania, Santorum ran away with a race that was almost
universally expected to be one the best chances for a Democratic
So while a Republican was winning the White House, incumbent
Republican Senators were dropping like flies.
But election losses are not the only weak spot of Team Lott.
The new President’s tax cut is arguably the most important
vote that will be cast during the entire Bush Presidency – the
defining vote of the early Bush days. It is what every following
major vote will be compared to in the next four years. This is
more than just your average tax-cut vote. Yet even then, Lott
couldn’t keep the Republicans in line.
Now, with a compromise deal all ready to be voted on, Lott
stares into the cameras, stunned, absolutely stunned, that
Democrats would attempt to delay the budget vote.
Even though the tax cut winds up being a still staggering
$1.35 trillion, the media has dedicated considerable coverage to
the fact it wasn’t the $1.6 trillion Bush said was "was
just right" during the campaign. So even in victory,
Republicans are the losers again. The Democrats protected the
elderly, those damn children and social security.
Now comes the case of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords. As of
this writing the conventional wisdom seems to say Jeffords
intends to defect – or at least declare himself an
independent. For my money, I’m voting on the independent
route. A man who has lived his life almost devoid of principles
clearly belongs somewhere in that hazy netherworld.
Then he can delay changing the leadership in the Senate for a
few months and get some more press time while the world ponders
how he'll vote in Senate organization. Yup, Mr. Jeffords
will really enjoy his 15 minutes then.
Some good may come out of a Jeffords’ defection after all.
It may give the Republicans in the Senate the shove they need to
It has been said Jeffords and Lott are good friends. Maybe
Jeffords and his new friends will allow Lott to stay on as
leader. That way he can sell
out the Democrats for a change.
See also: Vermont-Syrup
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