Nebraska's Republican Senator Mike Johanns is the latest to leave the Senate because of its Republican extremists.
Mr. Johanns, a soft-spoken former Nebraska governor and secretary of agriculture in the George W. Bush administration, appeared well positioned to be re-elected and was not on any Democratic target list. But last year, he angrily criticized conservative groups that tried to step in and influence the Senate election in his state. And his efforts as part of the “Gang of Eight” to broker a bipartisan deficit reduction accord proved fruitless. ...NYT
Let's not forget that they began dropping out for the same reason during the Gingrich time in the House, the era in which Republicans began their transformation from decent Dr. Jekylls to evil Mr. Hydes. The Senate is changing .... rapidly now, and not predictably in a good way.
Mr. Johanns is joining Senators Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa; Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia; John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia; and Frank Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, in heading for the exits. With former Senator John Kerry’s move to secretary of state, the rash of retirements will hasten a wholesale makeover of a Senate that was once far more stable. ...NYT
Here is a reminder from Joe Biden, who talked with Terry Gross about the change in the Senate during an interview almost exactly 7 years ago. Biden first became a senator in 1973.
Biden: ...I [had] joined a Democratic caucus that contained at least a dozen people who I had strong disagreement with, from James Eastland, John Stennis, etc., on race. But yet it wasn't personalized in those days. The partisanship was such that we spent time questioning each other's judgment but not their motive Around 1994, things really began to change. What happened was, if you disagreed with one of your colleagues, your motive was questioned. You were not moral, or you weren't a "decent person," or... it was not, Well, I understand your position and I disagree with it. It was "you must be immoral." And that personalized it in a much much deeper way. And then political campaigns began to reflect that kind of attitude. Views began to harden and there was a lot of division.
Gross: What do you see as the starting point of all that?
Biden: Well, it was gradual. But if I had to pick one moment, it was 1994 when so many members of the House of Representatives got elected to the Senate... the Gingrich Revolution. Where it was burn the House down to take back the House. And in fairness it was in reaction to dominance of the Democratic Party of so many years controllling both houses and the frustration many Republicans in the House felt about, basically, being muzzled for so many years. And they came to the US Senate with an attitude that was very very different from traditional Senate attitudes. The Senate is a different place from the House, not in terms of the men and women who make it up but in terms of the rules and the design of the institution. I would mark the beginning of the real change occurring in 1994 in the US Senate.
Gross: So what was different about how the new Senators who came from the House behaved?Biden: Everything was viewed in personal terms; everything was viewed in terms of an open war. For example, it used to be, in the Senate -- I've been in the minority and the majority, both, before that time. When you've lost and you're in the minority, you've got one third of the staff and the majority has two thirds. When it flipped back the other way, it didn't matter. It was just the way it was and you never made it personal. In 1994 when they took over the Senate, it became very very personal. It's gotten to the point now that, for example, when you have a conference... I know you know this, but it's arcane... the Senate passes a bill on an issue, the House passes the same bill. There are some differences. They go into a conference where an assigned number of Senators and an assigned number of House members of both parties sit down and work out the differences. Well, it's become standard rule now that the Republicans in the Senate and the Republicans in the House meet and don't even include the Democrats, and they rewrite the legislation. And that's it. It's a very different attitude and it's a very different way in which we proceed. ...The Scribe