Sunday, June 19, 2005

Who is Bill Frist?

David Brooks, whose columns I usually find shallow, describes Bill Frist then and now.
[When he first ran for office,] Frist was [neither] political [nor] ideologically conservative. He barely voted before he ran for Senate. Tom Perdue, his first campaign manager, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 'Quite frankly, for the first three or four months I wasn't sure he was a Democrat or a Republican. I think I helped him become a Republican.' That may be overstating things, but for his first years in the Senate, Frist seemed to fit the mold of the Tennessee Republican, the mold of Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander - conservative but pragmatic, energetic but not confrontational.

But the Senate changes people. Senators are endlessly polished and briefed; they spend their days relentlessly speechifying. The White House beckons, and some come to seem less like human beings and more like nation-states. Opinions turn into positions. Beliefs grow more abstract. Individual traits become parts of the brand.
Since 1961, more than 50 senators have run for president and they have all lost.

Frist too appears to have been gradually altered. Many who've known him say it's hard to square the current on-message leader with the honest young man of [his memoir] 'Transplant,' the stiff, ideological politician with the beloved community leader who made such a mark on Nashville.

Sometimes in their quests to perform greater acts of service, people lose contact with their animating passion. And the irony is that the earlier Frist, the Tennessee Republican, the brilliant and passionate health care expert, is exactly the person the country could use.
Does Frist have the internal strength to return to what Brooks hopes is his real self? Or is the intellectually dishonest poseur he has become his real self?

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