Byline: Weston Kosova
The co-chair of Obama's deficit commission on today's Washington.
Alan Simpson is no stranger to the political wars in Washington. A Republican senator from Wyoming from 1979 to 1997, he was known for having one of the sharpest minds--and tongues--in the U.S. Capitol. Simpson became an expert in manipulating the Senate's arcane parliamentary rules to frustrate the plans of Democratic colleagues. Yet he is anything but a doctrinaire Republican. He supports abortion rights and gay rights, and can be as skeptical of reflexive tax cuts as he is of tax hikes. When Barack Obama announced a presidential commission to find ways to bring down the federal debt, he asked Simpson to help lead the effort. Some conservative activists are now questioning his loyalty to the party. Simpson is happy to have that fight. He spoke to NEWSWEEK's Weston Kosova about the commission, and the sorry state of our politics.
Over the years, we've seen many presidential commissions come and go. Do you think this one can accomplish something?
I haven't any idea. But if that's the outlook we have, then this country is just going to sink into the swamp, so it doesn't make a rat's fanny's worth of difference what you do. Folks can say all the cynical stuff they want, but commissions do work. A lot of them don't, but a lot of them do. If people of good will get on them, they work.
In the Senate, you were known as a guy with pointy elbows. But they used to say then that members left the battle in the committee room and went out for a drink. Now the fight seems much more personal. What's changed?
No one forgives anyone for anything anymore. People get angry just for disagreeing with them. But remember the old AA phrase: if you can't forgive a person, it's like letting them live in your head rent-free. Look at what happens at the State of the Union address. There is a lot of whooping and jumping up and pointing. I'm seeing all this and thinking, you know, if they'd just look up, there's a crazy word engraved right there in the wood below the dais where the speaker sits. They ought to take a look at it. It says TOLERANCE. I wonder sometimes what's happened to simple tolerance.
What has happened to tolerance?
It isn't just Congress--Congress is a microcosm of America. You have guys jumping out of the stands at baseball games kicking the crap out of the players. You have hockey players bashing each other. You have city-council and school-board meetings that are just chaos--It isn't all in Washington, I'll tell you that. …