It is too bad that outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, had decided not to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 2OO6.
It would have been entertaining to watch this sorry excuse for a senator try and explain a political journey that deadended when the physician-turned-legislator diagnosed brain-damaged Terry Schiavo via videotape — producing an assessment of her condition that completely contradicted that of doctors who had actually examined her.
The storm that followed his intervention in the Schiavo case represented the only instance in which most Americans actually noticed that Frist was one of the nation’s most powerful political leaders.
After a number of earlier missteps, Frist had tended to avoid the limelight because he never did very well when he was in it –as the Schiavo fiasco so potently illustrated — and because his primary purpose in the Senate, that of enriching his already wealthy family, was not exactly the sort of thing that politicians brag about.
The wealthy doctor ran for the Senate in 1994 with a simple mission: to prevent health care reforms that might pose a threat to his family’s stake in Columbia/HCA, the nation’s leading owner of hospitals. There was never going to be anything honorable about his service, but nothing all that embarrassing in a Washington that welcomes self-serving senators with open arms.
For almost a decade, Frist was a comfortably forgettable legislator — a good hair, good suit, bad politics man of the Senate. Then, former Senate Majority Leader and soon-to-be Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, went all segregationist at States Rights Party presidential candidate Strom Thurmond’s going-away party in 2002. The Bush administration needed another prissy southerner to ride herd on the Senate. Frist fit the bill, moved into the nice office and became a comfortably forgettable Senate Majority Leader.
With the Republican-controlled Congress rendered irrelevant by its complete subservience to the Bush administration’s political agenda, Frist quietly went back to the business of protecting the family business.
Things got seriously dicey for Frist only in the presidential election year of 2OO4, when the Bush administration found itself short on defenders. Everyone seemed to be turning state’s evidence on the president. The ex-Secretary of the Treasury, the former Senior Director for Combating Terrorism on the National Security Council Staff and, now, the former counterterrorism chief in the Bush and Clinton White Houses had all come forward to suggest that Bush and Vice President Cheney really had missed the point of the war of terrorism — badly. Suddenly, Americans were waking up to the fact that the rest of the world already knew: Iraq was not tied to al-Qaeda, had no weapons of mass destruction and posed no serious threat to the United States or its neighbors at the time that the administration committed this country to the course of quagmire.