Skepticism is essential in a democracy. Cynicism is a sin. Cynicism is also a professional hazard for journalists. I had to wait a couple weeks to write this, so drenched was I from the flood of professional cynicism the followed Sen. Trent Lott’s retirement announcement.
The almost universal assumption by the news media was that Trent Lott is retiring from the Senate solely to be able to make money as a lobbyist a year earlier than he otherwise could. I watched some of the more respectable news shows over the weekend and was astonished how lock-step even some of the best commentators were in their smirky, self satisfied, holier-than-thou attitudes about the Senator.
Now, I need to offer some truth in packaging here, myself.
• I know Trent Lott and like him.
• My wife taught his daughter in grade school and, in spite of the hectic schedule of a Member of the House, he accompanied his wife to attend parent-teacher conferences.
• I need to mention that I doubt there are even two aspects of public policy that he and I would agree on. He’s right. I’m left.
• I also should state that I am a former Member of Congress who is a lobbyist.
• A final thing: I have not talked to Sen. Lott since his announcement and I have no more information on his motives than the cynics do.
But Trent Lott is a doer rather than a poser. He knows that to get anything done in a democratic society where people come to Congress with all kinds of points of view, you have to compromise. He is a tough negotiator, but when he agrees, he sticks. He is widely respected for that.
So let me offer another possibility for why he is leaving Congress. A Member of Congress who believes the job is to solve problems has to be very depressed by the current state of things. If the atmosphere still existed that most of Trent Lott’s generation of legislators worked in, usually effectively, I doubt you could drag Trent away from the Senate, let alone downtown.
But it has changed. Most Democrats don’t talk to Republicans. Most Republicans are just fine with that and return the hostility. Nothing gets done and, frankly, anyone who tries to work with others to make something move is unlikely to be thanked for the effort by their own party.
In a climate like that, isn’t it possible that a man with Trent Lott’s record and reputation just might be tired of the frustration and apparent futility of trying to accomplish something in the current morass? I think it is.
And so, a man who has not grown rich while serving in Congress, who finds it increasingly difficult to function as he’d like to and who sees no end to deadlock, might just decide – at an age when most people retire – to stop pushing the great stone up the hill and, instead, see if he can make some money for himself and his family.
That is a crime to smug critics who personally look for the worst in everybody. Well, it is not is not a crime. I wish Trent well.