We used to know each other as friends.
You know I served as both a Democrat and a Republican, so let me cue you in on a secret that you will not hear from anyone else. There’s some awfully good people in both parties. Most people who come to Congress come to government to do the right thing. They come to serve. They come in large measure . . . It’s a great adventure to have a chance to be a part of your own government, and to make a difference, and to hopefully get something done that advances the folks who sent you there. Most people come with that attitude. Most want to do the right thing. They come with different ideas about what the right thing is. And it used to be that we had those kind of debates. We’d talk about your idea and my idea, and we’d see who had a better idea. And every now and then you’d have to be man enough to admit that, you know, the other guy’s got a better idea and he ought to win. That doesn’t happen anymore. What happens today is that if the other guy has a good idea, we have learned that the best way to defeat his idea is not to challenge the idea, but to destroy that person’s credibility. Now if you can do that . . . if you can make the other person totally irrelevant because you’ve destroyed their credibility, it doesn’t matter how good their idea was. It’s gone. And I think both parties have learned to do that with the . . . with the incredible capacity of negative campaigning, negative ads, campaigns directed by the party against individuals. You know start with Tip O’Neil. Tip O’Neil was an amazing person. I would love to have him as a next door neighbor. But boy he was built into the . . . the great archenemy of the conservative movement. And there were ads run that depicted him as a symbol of bloated, cigar smoking, back room dealing politics as part of the effort to take over the House. You know what followed him? Jim Wright. A book scandal brought him down. Tom Foley, bank scandal. Bring him down. What followed him was Newt Gingrich. Ethics complaints. Bring him down. Bob Livingston didn’t even take the Oval Office. Sex scandal. Bring him down. Hustler magazine. Who takes his place? Denny _______. Pretty well protected for a long time. Cuddly bear, Denny _______. Tom DeLay’s in charge. Bring him down. It’s been . . . it’s been an assault by one party over the other to take down the leader; to . . . to totally discredit the leadership of . . . on the other side. The result over time has been a degradation of the place as a civilized debating society and into a personal attack arena. And it’s ugly. And don’t let anybody tell you it’s always been that way. That’s not true. We used to know each other as friends. We used to know and appreciate one another and their families. We used to travel together, and know one another in the Congress, and respect each other a great deal more. Again I served in both parties. There are good people in both parties. You would not know it anymore if you are on one side of the aisle or the other. You are taught to believe the other side is full of horrible, corrupt, double-dealing, awful people whom you would not want as a neighbor. And you are taught to believe it. The consultants help you make that argument. And by the time a campaign is through, most people end up saying now I gotta chose from bad . . . two bad alternatives. I don’t really have a good choice in this election. I’m gonna pick the lesser of two evils. And that’s what we’ve come to in this country, and that’s a shame.
Recorded on: 9/11/07