A friend who attended a Democratic Christmas party last week told me he was chatting with Democratic staffers when several Republican congressmen were spotted across the room. The staffers were upset that the Republicans were drinking champagne and eating hors d'oeuvres—like everyone else at the party—after some particularly ugly policy negotiations the prior week. Why were they upset? My friend summarized their comments this way: How dare those Republicans come here and drink our champagne after what they said about us last week? My friend replied, "If you don't want them to be saying nasty things about you, you should invite them over more often." That went over like a lead balloon.
Washington didn't used to be that way. I was born and raised here in D.C., and I remember when Republicans and Democrats played golf with each other, went to movie nights at the Motion Picture Association, attended congressional barbeques on the South Lawn, and would actually speak to each other outside the office. You could be completely opposed to the other guy's philosophy and priorities, but you still got along with him. You gave someone from the other side the benefit of the doubt, because chances are, you'd be seated next to her this weekend at a dinner party.
So I enjoyed reading about Diane Sawyer's interview with the record number of women from both parties who are either senators or senators-elect now, which will air January 3. The Washington Post reports that for years, Republican and Democratic women in the Senate have met regularly to talk about everything from books to kids and grandkids. Sometimes it's as organized as a bridal shower, other times just a glass of wine or dessert.
As a result, the women seem to get along better than the men. And they get things done. "Anytime I have tried to get things done and been successful, it's been with the help of a Republican woman," said Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York. In the 2010 repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," Gillibrand and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine worked together to push through a bill that allowed openly gay servicemembers to continue to serve in the military.
There are other stories of bipartisan cooperation among the women, but perhaps the most concrete benefit of their friendships is that even the most junior member among them will have access to nearly a quarter of the Senate. "When you have 20 people—not that they're a monolithic bloc—but they're more likely to hear you out on something," said retiring Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine. "They will give you their every consideration, even if they don't ultimately give you their support, which is all you can ask for." I doubt male senators would say that about each other right now.
Peggy Noonan rightly says it's time for Republicans to evolve: "Right now everyone's open to the idea of change. The party can either go the way of the Whigs or they can straighten up and fly right, get serious, make their philosophy feel new again, and pick candidates who can win." The Republican women in the Senate have the ability to help make conservative principles seem new again, less extremist. Tone is so important, and they've got the right tone. Maybe women like these can be a big part of getting Washington back on track, and the Republican party back on its feet.