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My Favorite Senators?

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“The Last Great Senate” author Ira Shapiro laments how some of his heroes — Democratic Sens. Birch Bayh (left, with President Jimmy Carter and first lady Rosalynn Carter) — lost re-election in 1980, when the Senate Democrats’ 12-seat loss marked the end of their 26-year majority.

During the 1970s, some observers voiced regret over that decade’s growing partisanship and fondly recalled the more bipartisan 1950s, which was a quieter legislative era. 

For Shapiro, one twist to this approach is that his book virtually ignores the surviving “old school” Democratic Senators, mostly Southerners, even though some continued to hold influential chairmanships in 1977 — such as on the Appropriations, Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Judiciary and Public Works committees. 

In a brief epilogue on the Senate since 1980, Shapiro writes that “today’s fractured and ineffective Senate is the product of the continuous, relentless movement of the Republican Party further and further to the right.” (He seems not to have noticed the leftward shift of the Democrats.)

But Shapiro — who held top international trade posts with Clinton, lost an open-seat House Democratic primary in 2002 to Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and now is a partner in a large Washington law firm — harshly characterized the Democratic-controlled Senate from 2009 to 2010 as “dysfunctional” despite its successes in enacting an economic stimulus, a health care overhaul and financial regulation.

His hostility toward the current Senate evokes another possible title for his book, which was a term he used to describe the chamber during the 12-year service of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), the son of the former Senator: “It wasn’t his father’s Senate.”

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