WASHINGTON — Trent Lott never saw partisanship permeate the very fabric of Congress during his 35-year tenure there the way it divides Capitol Hill today, the former Senate majority leader lamented on Wednesday.
Today’s bitter partisan culture is a long cry from his days serving leaders of the “Greatest Generation,” said Lott, a Mississippi Republican who served in the House of Representatives from 1973 to 1989 and in the Senate from 1989 to 2007.
On a panel discussing the potential for renewed bipartisanship in Congress, Lott blamed the 1960s and ’70s culture of rebellion, when the nation’s current leaders grew up, as the principal cause of division in Congress today. The panel also included former House Speaker Tom Foley, D-Wash., former House Minority Leader Bob Michel, R-Ill., and former Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas.
“It’s not the rules. It’s not the institutions. The problem is us,” Lott said. “The generational leaders now are those that came out of the ’60s and ’70s, which were turbulent times – you had Vietnam, the civil rights movement, Watergate, impeachment – we became such partisan warriors.”
While Lott practiced plenty of hard-edged partisan politics in his day, he also often cut deals with Democrats. In those days, he said, it was normal to have a friendly dinner with members of the opposing party.
“Our leaders were very different people – it was people like Bob Michel and Tom Foley and others in the House,” Lott said. “It just had a different feel to it – there was a respect for chain of command; there was a respect for the institution. I know Bob had it and exhibited it.”
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