Trent Lott's Pillar of Salt

Okay. Let's suppose you're a liberal. Furthermore, let's suppose you want to draw an intellectually defensible distinction between partisanship as practiced by Democrats and partisanship as practiced by Republicans -- and argue that the GOP version is more extreme. Sure, you could just get angry at Republicans and bleat on in a partisan way yourself. But you want to unlock the objective truth of the matter.

Well, Trent Lott's behavior Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation serves as a pretty good starting point.

On the show, host Bob Schieffer asked Lott to comment on Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's claim that the Bush administration was guilty of "Enronizing" the economy. Now, a fair-minded liberal like yourself will readily concede that this piece of Democratic spin, which compares the president's economic plans to the potentially criminal activities of a deceitful corporation, was unjust. Ergo, Daschle was being partisan.

But then, Lott went and did Daschle one better:

When Senator Daschle uses a term like that, I--I--I don't think that's a good way to start off the year and we don't want to Daschle-ize the budget, which to me means raise taxes, increase spending and obstruct . . .We need to be coming together . . . and not using adjectives or verbs to describe each other's motives.

In this short statement, Lott managed, with an entirely straight face, to smear Daschle with the GOP equivalent of "Enronizing" -- accusing the Senate majority leader of "Daschelizing" the budget. And Lott did so while disavowing the use of "adjectives and verbs" in political spin wars, which is rich indeed.

Scheiffer immediately called Lott on his language; the Mississippi Senator refused to apologize. So Lott committed precisely the same faux pas as Daschle, the only difference being that he did so in the context of arguing against non-rational spin tactics.

It's a pretty big difference. Either Lott really believes himself, or he's grown so cynical that he doesn't even care about such contradictions. Both possibilities suggest that while Lott finds Daschle's talk of "Enronizing" outrageous, he sees absolutely nothing wrong with the GOP "Daschleization" campaign. He's willing to denounce a methodology of spin while practicing it himself.

From this example, you might conclude that the Republican version of partisanship, at least as practiced by Lott, lacks any shame.