In picking George Mitchell of Maine as their majority leader, Senate Democrats this week confirmed earlier indications that President-to-be George Bush will not have an easy time in the upcoming Congress.
Mitchell was chosen over more experienced senators with much more seniority to fill the post being vacated in the 101st Congress by Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who has been majority leader for 12 years.Why go to the relatively youthful - age 53 - Mitchell, who has just been elected to his second term as a senator? One reason may be that Mitchell can be an appealing national spokesman, as well as a Senate leader. That means the Democrats may be planning on going public in future clashes with Bush.
Mitchell has what Democrats have lacked in recent presidential elections, namely an excellent TV image. During the Iran-Contra hearings, Mitchell came across on television as an articulate performer, thoughtful, strong, and fair.
While he is intense and liberal, his partisanship tends to be masked by a judge-like demeanor from his days on the federal bench. As a result, he appears less ideological than some other party leaders - an asset in the minds of many senators.
Mitchell won the majority leader position over senators Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, both more of the traditional "insider" types - as Byrd had been. Byrd will still play a powerful role as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
As the new majority leader, Mitchell is saying all the right things in the aftermath of his victory, emphasizing a willingness to work with Bush and the new administration on crucial problems such as the deficit.
But given Mitchell's background as a liberal legislator, and his willingness to consider higher taxes, there are certain to be clashes with President Bush.
The country can only hope that Mitchell's acknowledged skill and talent are used to help hammer out the solutions the nation desperately needs rather than getting sidetracked in partisan battles that end in stalemates between the White House and Congress.