You are on page 1of 5


Americas strength has always come from its unique diversityits willingness to not just permit
but encourage competing viewpoints in order to strengthen the whole. The adversarial system,
embedded by the Founding Fathers into our system of government, was meant to spur debate,
challenge complacency, and drive progress. It has sustained our Republic for over 225 years, but
we have to face a sad truth: it has stopped working. In fact, it has begun to work against us.
Our system of checks and balances was not designed to encourage the kind of inertia
plaguing our current leaders in Washington. The quality of our United States Congressand by
extension, the American governmentcontinues to grow increasingly dysfunctional. As former
legislators, Senate leaders, and concerned citizens, we are alarmed.
We have a combined fifty-nine years in Congress, over sixteen as Senate majority and
minority leaders, so we know of what we speak. The center can no longer hold under such
mindless and unprecedented partisanship: it is no exaggeration to say that the state of our
democracy is as bad as weve ever seen it. The two of us have the experience of leading our
parties during extremely partisan and combative timesPresident Clintons impeachment, a
deadlocked Senate, post 9/11 Americaso we are not nave about how these things actually
work. Though we have philosophical differences about the role of government, as well as
divergent views on many important issues, we can agree that it is time to sound the alarm.
The United State government is at a crisis point that requires significant changes: in
leadership, in action, and most importantly, in mindset. The New York Times reported that the
most recent Congress was one of the least productive, most divided in historyBy traditional
measurements, the 113th Congress is now in a race to the bottom with the 112th for the do

nothing crown.i The dysfunction has created not just antipathy but anger among the public,
with a CNN poll finding a 83% disapproval rating of Congress.ii Other polls have approval of
Congress regularly in the single digits. Obviously, polls dont tell the whole storyand
government should not be at their mercybut the fact that such a whopping majority of the
public has expressed dissatisfaction with Congress is much more than just a canary in the
coalmine: Its a whole flock of them.

Weve traveled around the world and attended the inauguration of other leaders and one thing
thats remarkable in contrast with ours: almost without exception, foreign leaders take an oath of
office to the people. In America, we take an oath of office to support and defend the
Constitution. We take an oath not to the masses but to an idea and a set of principles. Thats
The Constitution was not written as a precise set of instructions; it was to serve as a
blueprint for how the young Republic would sustain itself and grow for the future. Jefferson and
Madisons generation had enormous faith in oursenough to trust our judgment. At the very
least, theyd be confused by what has happened. More likely, theyd be devastated. Partisan
rancor has overtaken reasoned debate so completely that an entire generation wonders what
Congress does all day. And wed be hard-pressed to answer them.
The two of us entered politics at different times, under different conditions, and from far
different perspectives, but our respective stories help tell the larger story of this great nation. Our
careers, battles, and accomplishments flow into the larger river of the American story.
Though we dont claim to have a panacea to all the problems, we do understand the key
ingredients needed to get us moving forward again. We know that communication within and

between the partiesand the relationships that resultcreates chemistry, an absolute necessity
to the functioning of good government. As we look at the political landscape, we see five things
that are desperately needed: chemistry, compromise, leadership, courage and vision.

During the historic 50-50 Senate of 2001, Congress was numerically deadlocked but not
operationally so. As respective leaders of our parties in the Senate, we came together to
formulate an historic power sharing agreement, gaining the vitriol of some our respective
caucuses in the process. Trent nearly got a vote of no confidence from the Republican caucus for
even negotiating with Tom and the Democrats. But we managed to line up our colleagues behind
usthrough leadership, compromise, and a good dose of chemistryand got to work
conducting the countrys business.
Believing in the necessity for direct communication among the noise, we installed a
phone on each of our desks that rang directly through to the other leader. The phone was
practical, but it was also symbolic of an open line of communication we maintained while in the
leadership. Considering what the country had to go through in those years, it could not have been
more necessary.
We also navigated, among other historic and challenging moments, the impeachment of
President Clinton, 9/11 and its aftermath, and anthrax in the Capitol. Drawing on these
experiences, as well as many others in our long career as legislators in this book, we will:

Share our insights about how to harness the natural conflict that comes from a body of
different voices

Explain how to create a culture of chemistry allows for bipartisanship and compromise

Examine the elements of effective leadership

Illustrate why courage is such a necessary component of that leadership

Present a vision for how our government can get moving forward to take on the
challenges we face

Bipartisanship is the life force that keeps the government running. It is neither a life raft to be
embraced only in crisis, nor a nave idealism to be mocked. Bipartisan negotiation is the
pumping blood of democracy, and it has run dry in the current Washington landscape. Without it,
government is just voices shouting in a roomwith nobody listening. The best way to
persuade, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk once said, "is with your ears."
Todays leaders dont practice bipartisanship and the environment of the nations capital
doesnt allow for it. The common ground has been stripped and scorched, leaving no community.
The ubiquity of planes and telecommunication have made it feasible to work in Washington
without living there (in fact, being a Washington resident is used against candidates.) True to its
name, the media has become a comfortable filter through which both sides can hurl partisan
assaults without having to face each other. Meanwhile, primaries have begun to reward the
extremes, stripping away moderates on both sides of the aisle, and turning off voters in the
process through an increasing arms race of outside money and negativity.
But there is hope. And it begins with the strength that already exists within this great
nation and its people. It begins with each and every one of us. The future is far from written.
During our extensive congressional careers, we each drove hard to push mostly-clashing

agendasunder presidents from opposing partiesso we speak from pragmatic experience. We

have dedicated our lives to serving our country and feel deeply for its future. We sincerely
believe that the tide can be turned. Nothing less than the countrys future depends on it.
We have decided to join together for a common cause because we know our opposing
voices, when joined together, create a force stronger than its parts. Our contrasting identities and
philosophies also serve as a metaphor for the country itself. Yet we worked together, remain
friends, and share a vision for how we can get moving again.
This book is a call to action, a clarion call to our leaders, the voters, the lapsed voters,
those in public service, or those considering going into public service. We will try to show how
the country can learn from where it has been, examine how we arrived at the current state of
dysfunction, and hopefully, help to inspire a new dawn of American politics.

Sen. Trent Lott and Sen. Tom Daschle

June 2015


Jonathan Wiseman and Ashley Parker, Congress Off for the Exits, but Few Cheer, The

New York Times, Aug. 1, 2014.


Mark Preston. CNN/ORC poll: Most think Congress is worst in their lifetime,,

Sept. 9, 2014.

Chapter One