Bill Frist, the heart transplant surgeon turned senator, didn't always distinguish himself as a man of principle when serving as Majority Leader from 2003 to 2007. Yes, that was him diagnosing Terry Schiavo's medical condition from the close proximity of the Senate floor.
But, like so many politicians, Frist was a complicated figure who also had what seemed (at least to me) like a genuine interest in public service--an interest that occasionally led him to stand up for what he thought was right.
Perhaps because he's out of politics again, that streak has shown itself again, in an interview about health care reform with Karen Tumulty.
Frist tells Karen that he has serious objections to the measures moving through Congress, the sort of objections you'd expect a conservative to make. But given a chance to vote on something like the bill moving through the Senate Finance Committee, Frist says,
I would end up voting for it. ... As leader, I would take heat for it. ... That's what leadership is all about.
For those keeping a tally, that's three former Republican Senate Majority Leaders who have endorsed the sorts of reforms President Obama and his allies are pushing. Previously, Howard Baker and Bob Dole signed on to a plan they negotiated with Tom Daschle and George Mitchell, former Democratic counterparts, through the auspices of the Biparitsan Policy Center.
And this is as it should be. For all of the crazy talk about a radical government takeover, health care reform 2009 is an amalgam of compromises, many based on ideas taken straight from former Republican proposals--the kind of proposal, in other words, at least a few Republicans should be able to embrace in good faith.
Now if only some currently serving members of the party could take a cue from the retired elder statesmen...