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Sen. Byrd, the Senate and the 'national interest'

My wish for today is that every member of the U.S. Senate read David Broder’s column about the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.). Perhaps it will remind them of what their role as members of the upper chamber is supposed to be. For what’s missing today is any collective sense that the national interest comes before party or the personal.

As Broder points out, in a Senate floor speech in 1998, Byrd remarked that “on the great issues, the Senate has always been blessed with senators who were able to rise above party and consider first and foremost the national interest.” Broder’s blunt assessment 12 years later is, “Today they are missing.” As a class, yes. But there are some in the Senate who try.

E.J. Dionne devotes an entire column to Sen. John F. Kerry’s (D-Mass.) efforts to get climate change legislation passed. But his focus on the national interest has triggered the self-interest (read survival instincts) of many of his Democratic colleagues. Gail Collins at the New York Times, in her delightfully backhanded way, compliments Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) for his willingness to play ball with Democrats despite the Republican leadership’s desire that he march lockstep with his party. And today’s Post editorial on the Kagan confirmation hearings gives a well-deserved shout out to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) for “appear[ing] to be the only Republican on the Judiciary Committee with an open mind about the nominee.” He’s also been a willing partner with Kerry and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on climate legislation. And let’s not forget the moderate Republican Twin Towers of Power from Maine -- Sen. Susan Collins (R) and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R). I’m a particular fan of Collins’s effort with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) to get momentum behind their push for cap-and-dividend instead of cap-and-trade with their CLEAR Act.

I suppose my “national interest” focus is on Republicans since they are in the minority and Democrats need a few of them to get cloture to get anything done. But with all the problems facing the country, it’s frustrating that concern for the national interest is not an overwhelmingly bipartisan affair. Well, let me rephrase that. If the Senate can vote 99-0 as it did yesterday to confirm Gen. David Petraeus as the commander of the Afghanistan war effort, surely it could come together in similar unity on a host of other, equally pressing issues.

By Jonathan Capehart  | July 1, 2010; 9:06 AM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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democrats are morons..they are the blame for this current mess....they have been asked to spend the hundreds of billions still left sitting from the 787 billion...yet these morons still can't create jobs and want to run the national debt to 62% of GDP....all these useless democrats want to do it blame others for their mess...typical whining welfare begging liberals.

Posted by: JWx2 | July 1, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

Only when Republicans support Democrats are they putting nation above party. Lock-step Democrats are already perfect since what's good for the Democrats is always good for the nation.

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | July 1, 2010 11:12 AM | Report abuse

kitchendragon...go back to slicing the government cheese and the meal you begged with the food stamps...since your most likely another begging liberal leeching off of others hard work.

Posted by: JWx2 | July 1, 2010 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad the problem is being addressed, although I'm afraid it's insoluble. Right now, it is the Republicans who are so cowed by their clamorous right wing that they don't dare speak cordially to a Democrat, as Bob Bennett (knowing he has nothing left to lose) said yesterday. If the situation were reversed, I don't think the Democrats would always be the Party of No, but I'm not sure of that. I remember an interesting commentary by Cokie Roberts, who remembered interparty socializing when she was growing up in Washington. Now that members are in their districts on weekends, that can't happen even if they want to do it. Too bad; as President Obama has pointed out, it's harder to demonize someone you've enjoyed a drink with. And it's hard to say you're prepared to cooperate, even on a worthwhile project, with someone you've demonized. Where do we go from here?

Posted by: MaineWoman | July 1, 2010 12:20 PM | Report abuse

Capehart and the others he cites will continue to be the problem as long as they define "good" Republicans as those who are willing to kowtow to Democrats. Did they define "good" Democrats as those who were willing to compromise their principles to accomplish things for the good of the country when the GOP had the majority. No, they cheered them for blocking any and all initiatives of the hated GOP Majority.

The reason that Scott Brown is being noticed now is that he is the 41st vote. This gives him the leverage to force changes in legislation which the GOP did not have prior to his election when the Democrats did whatever they damned well pleased. Despite sincere efforts by Sens. Corker, Gregg, Grassley, Snowe, Collins, Graham, Coburn, and many, many others, legislation was written behind closed doors, passed through parliamentary maneuvers to exclude any participation by the minority regardless of the validity of their proposals, and cheered by the MSM.
The cooperative efforts of the GOP minority were disparaged and ridiculed by the Majority Leader, his troops, the President, the DNC, Democrats, the MSM, and their supporters. The media never covered sincere GOP efforts to moderate legislation or find common ground.

This trope is the making of the likes of Capehart and he sadly continues it. Probably picked up a lot of snarky little tips on JournoList.

Posted by: parkbench | July 1, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

The more I learn about Sen Byrd, the more respect he earns from me. It is a shame that it took his death for me to sit and read about the things he did. I aways knew he was the king of pork and never liked how he opperated his funnel. Being a person who is autodidactic, I appreciate his unending hunger for knowledge that eventually shaped his beliefs and actions. More important to me is how he changed--a man I would have despised in his early tenure became a man who was able to change his views and learn from his mistakes (most of them). In my late-twenties and having lived a life I am not always proud of, I have still learned form my mistakes and misteps and poor judgement to become a better, more moderate person. My only hope is that I and those near me in age will be able to stand as tall as the late Senator did after the long roads of our lives--whether in politics or our chosen professions--and learn to put our country before our party or ourselves, respectively. Those who have commented negatively on this post have not learned these lessons and it is my sincere hope that they one day will in order to stem the trend of hate and animosity toward those who share a somewhat diferent viewpoint in order to trancend party and culture for the sake of a better tomorrow that may lie beyond our years.

Posted by: patricksaxton | July 1, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse

May he rest in peace. Hopefully redemption will let him. It took me a while to swallow because I remembered some not so pleasant things.

And, as time goes on some raise their ugly heads like snakes. And lately there are certain names that pop up as that "good old boy network of the old south": Sessoms, McConnell, Graham and the late bye, bye Byrd. If you were in the South some of you would understand especially during the Civil Rights era that certain names were not exactly on Black Entertainment List. And there are times when it seems to still be the rule today.
The same ugly heads keep popping up and striking without warning. What is the saying "throwing rocks and handing their hands"??? Pretty much like all those oil deals gone bad?? Well, God saw us through before so, he will again regardless of certain venom.

Posted by: Scar1 | July 2, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

kitchendragon...go back to slicing the government cheese and the meal you begged with the food stamps...since your most likely another begging liberal leeching off of others hard work.

Posted by: JWx2 | July 1, 2010 12:03 PM

JWx2, do you understand sarcasm? Read the comment again.

Posted by: iampocky | July 2, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

"But with all the problems facing the country, it’s frustrating that concern for the national interest is not an overwhelmingly bipartisan affair."

Another pathetic leftist who believes only those who march in lockstep with their own beliefs are concerned with the national interest.

I wonder what they would have said during the Bush years if someone claimed opposition to his Social Security reform meant you weren't acting in the national interest. How about "don't question my patriotism!".

But the killer is accusing those exercising their own judgement of "march[ing] in lockstep".

Really, are people so satisfied with being Democratic Party surrogates they can live with making such obviously partisan assertions? Don't they have an ounce of self-respect?

Posted by: mj13 | July 2, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

"as President Obama has pointed out, it's harder to demonize someone you've enjoyed a drink with."

Maybe for some, but Obama doesn't have a problem with it as he showed yet again this week.

Posted by: mj13 | July 2, 2010 9:43 AM | Report abuse

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