News - Long-distance call
Static On the party line
Hello, Zell?It's me. How in the world are you, brother?
"Couldn't be better, Max. What's on your mind?"
"Nothing. I just, uh, wanted to welcome my fellow Democrat to Washington."
"Again? I've been here for months now and you keep calling to welcome me, always as your 'fellow Democrat.' I don't mean to be rude, but I'm aware of my party affiliation."
"Are you sure? Way you've been cozying up to Bush, some of the boys on our side are starting to wonder. I mean, just this morning Teddy Kennedy called to ask me what's up."
"What's up? I'll tell you what's up. I ran for the Senate promising to represent all Georgians — Democrats, Republicans and independents alike."
"Sure, Zell, sure. Everybody talks like that when we're out making speeches and shooting TV spots. But I don't know anybody here in the District who means it."
"Well, I meant it, and I still mean it. Maybe because I'm from Young Harris, Ga., not Washington, D.C."
"Don't get started with all that mountain-man-of-the-people stuff. I know where you're from."
"So, what's the problem, Max?"
"Bottom line, you're making me look bad. You're making me look bad with Democrats here, and you're making me look bad back with voters in Georgia."
"I realize our party leaders ain't exactly thrilled with my, uh, bipartisan spirit, but how am I making you look bad back home?"
"You want to know? I'll tell you. When I ran for the Senate back in '96, I told anyone who'd listen how I'd be a 'Sam Nunn Democrat.' You know, moderate, thoughtful, pragmatic. And now you come waltzing in here, keeping my promise and showing me up. That was my promise, Zell!"
"Don't believe I've got a dog in that fight, Max. I didn't tell you what to say then, and I haven't told you how to vote since."
"Well, can you at least tell me why you bolted off the reservation to support Bush's tax plan? That little maneuver got you dubbed a 'renegade' by the New York Times."
"Frankly, Max, I don't give a hoot what they say about me in New York. Never have. Fact is, we need this across-the-board tax cut. Taxes are sky-high and so are the surpluses. As I said the other day, we need to make like Elvis and 'Return to Sender.'"
"But Daschle and Biden and the other guys say Bush's tax cut would give too much money to rich people and bring back huge deficits. We're for targeted cuts, for folks who really need them. And we're for fiscal responsibility."
"Fiscal responsibility, huh? I'll tell you right now, Max, if the money stays in Washington, someone is going to spend it."
"No, no, no. We don't use that word anymore. These days, we don't 'spend' a plugged nickel. We 'invest' instead. Clinton, the old rascal, he changed the terminology, made it sound better. And 9-out-of-10 focus groups agree."
"Can you hear yourself, Max? I'm here to try to get things done, not play word games and listen to focus groups."
"OK, then, what about Ashcroft? How could you vote to confirm him, especially after seeing the devastating portrait of him painted by the NAACP, the ACLU, the gay lobby and the abortion people?"
"Sorry. I didn't need interest groups painting a picture for me. I know Ashcroft himself, used to compare notes with him at those National Governors Association get-togethers. He's a decent, honest man. Besides, a president should be able to pick his team."
"Hey, I know Ashcroft too, pal. Served with him in the Senate. But that didn't keep me from turning on him right quick when my party told me to."
"Max, I don't know if you noticed, but a large majority of Georgians voted for Bush. I'd like to have plenty of those folks on my side in four years."
"Trouble is, you're forgetting your base, particularly blacks. I'm running for re-election next year and voting for Ashcroft could have really hurt me."
"Really? I don't think so. As Democrats, we need to represent more than just a collection of special interests. Besides, where's our base going to go?"
"Hmm. Got a point there, Zell."
"Is that all, Max? Shirley and I have dinner reservations."
"One more thing: I don't appreciate you hogging all the media attention. A senior senator like me shouldn't have to play second fiddle, after all. It's not fitting."
"Don't go down that road, Max. I may be new to the Senate, but I'm not exactly your junior. Back home, I was a two-term governor. You were, what, secretary of state? I think I know what I'm doing."