Frist finds religion on his way out the Senate door

In his last speech as majority leader, Frist decries the tone he helped create.

By Tim Grieve
Published December 8, 2006 2:30PM (EST)

As a heart surgeon, Bill Frist is probably familiar with the concept of deathbed conversions. We wonder if he recognized the one he had himself Thursday.

In his final speech as Senate majority leader, Frist complained about how partisan the Senate has become. "We are moving toward a body with a two-year vision, governing for the next election rather than a body with a 20-year vision," he said. "I urge that we also consider what our work in this chamber is really all about. Is it about keeping the majority? Is it about red states versus blue states? Is it about lobbing attacks across the aisle? Is it about war rooms whose purpose is not to contrast ideas but to destroy? Or is it more?"

They're questions Frist might have asked himself sometime before, say, his last day on the job.

In the hopes of shoring up support from the far right -- it didn't work, or at least not well enough -- Frist turned the Senate's agenda over to hot-button issues like flag burning and gay marriage during the run-up to November's midterm elections. As majority leader, he called Democrats "defeatocrats" and accused them of advocating a "cut and run" policy on Iraq. He routinely argued that Democrats were obstructing legislation and nominees, and he said they had engaged in "childish antics" to stop legislation they opposed. When Harry Reid forced the Senate into a closed session last November in order to force some movement on the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence, Frist called the move a "political stunt" and declared: "For the next year and a half, I can't trust Sen. Reid."

Reid gave Frist a hug as he headed for the door Thursday. The Washington Post says Frist seemed startled by the gesture. We can't imagine why.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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U.s. Senate War Room