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Introduction

America’s strength has always come from its unique diversity—its 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 Congress—and by

extension, the American government—continues 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 we’ve ever seen it. The two of us have the experience of leading our

parties during extremely partisan and combative times—President Clinton’s impeachment, a

deadlocked Senate, post 9/11 America—so we are not naïve 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 history…By 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 don’t tell the whole story—and

government should not be at their mercy—but 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: It’s a whole flock of them.

We’ve traveled around the world and attended the inauguration of other leaders and one thing

that’s 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. That’s

magical.

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

Madison’s generation had enormous faith in ours—enough to trust our judgment. At the very

least, they’d be confused by what has happened. More likely, they’d be devastated. Partisan

rancor has overtaken reasoned debate so completely that an entire generation wonders what

Congress does all day. And we’d 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 don’t 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 parties—and the relationships that result—creates 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

us—through leadership, compromise, and a good dose of chemistry—and got to work

conducting the country’s 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 naïve 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 room—with nobody listening. “The best way to

persuade,” former Secretary of State Dean Rusk once said, "is with your ears."

Today’s leaders don’t practice bipartisanship and the environment of the nation’s capital

doesn’t 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
agendas—under presidents from opposing parties—so 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 country’s 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

Introduction

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

New York Times, Aug. 1, 2014.

ii Mark Preston. “CNN/ORC poll: Most think Congress is worst in their lifetime,” Cnn.com,

Sept. 9, 2014.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/09/politics/cnn-poll-congress/index.html.

Chapter One