The lack of civility in the nation's capital, especially in Congress, has been a topic of concern for the past few years. The hostility on Capitol Hill is so rampant that there seems to be no solution in a country also bitterly divided into "blue" states and "red" states in the past two presidential elections.
So folks in both parties should heed the words of former Republican Sen. Al Simpson of Wyoming, who seems to be shocked by these developments. Simpson told the Washington Post that the word compromise seems to have been erased from the dictionary.
The son of a former governor and senator from his home state, Simpson could be partisan, but he sought compromise on some issues.
A conservative by all measures, Simpson was an admired figure during his time in the Senate for his smarts, his jokes, and his colorful language. Simpson's wife, Ann, was a helpful mate, and the senator always made fun of himself by declaring that it was amazing that a gangly, ugly cowboy could land such a beautiful woman.
Reporters loved Simpson, the GOP whip, because he was always good for a quoteserious or salty. Need a comment, go to Simpson. Need the latest political joke, go to Simpson.
To ease the current situation, however, Simpson should sit down for a long talk with Vice President Cheney, also from sparsely populated Wyoming. Simpson has been a Cheney booster and defender for some time.
Simpson must recognize that Cheney is a more polarizing figure than even President Bush. It is one thing to be partisan, as vice presidents of both parties have been in the past. But Cheney has taken it to a new level.
Consider his outburst at Vermont's Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.
"Go f--- yourself," Cheney said when Leahy approached him to shake hands on the floor of the Senate. The veep was miffed because Leahy had had some unpleasant things to say about him earlier. Of course, heated exchanges between the members of both parties occur every day. But Cheney apparently felt insulted and delivered his crude remark.
In my mind, Cheney has done a lot to add to the sour mood in Congress. Perhaps he doesn't care since he'll be leaving office in 2009. Simpson should make it clear to Cheney that he is not helping the president with his actions. It is one thing to be a lightning rod for W but quite another to be a drag.
A final word: Last year, there was a memorial ceremony in the Senate Office Building for the late Sen. Gaylord Nelson, Democrat of Wisconsin. Senators in both parties liked Nelson for his integrity, good humor, and ability to work with both sides of the aisle. (He could even outdo Simpson on some of his jokes.)
There were numerous current Democratic senators there along with some former colleagues. The only Republican senator there was former Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada, a strong conservative during his days in the Senate but one also admired by colleagues in both parties for his friendly demeanor.
I noted his presence and asked his take on the civility problem. He said friends in both parties had told him it was the worst they'd ever seen. That is your cue, Al Simpson, to do some more healing.