Washington, D.C., once home to giants

(CBS News) Watching the blundering ineptitude and the vulgar partisanship of last week made me think of other days our modern politicians may have forgotten-an era when Washington actually worked.

When Lyndon Johnson was thrust into the presidency after the assassination of John Kennedy one of the first people he called for help was former Republican President Dwight Eisenhower.

Johnson thought Eisenhower was the best politician he ever knew, and within days Eisenhower was there to offer guidance.

As President, Johnson passed historic civil rights legislation, but he always said he couldn't have done it without the assistance of Senate Republican Leader Everett Dirksen. Hardly a day passed when they didn't talk.

More recently, who could have been more different than George Bush and Ted Kennedy, yet they maintained a personal friendship that led to important education reforms.

"I was so proud of our work, I even had nice things to say about my friend Ted Kennedy," President Bush said.

Ideologically, they were no further apart than Republican Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill, but Reagan and O'Neill shared a love of politics and a respect for each other that enabled them to craft legislation that staved off the collapse of Social Security.

Liberal Senator Russ Feingold and conservative John McCain forged important campaign reforms, and the arms control legislation fashioned by Democrat Sam Nunn and Republican Richard Lugar left today's world a far safer place.

The rear-view mirror has a way of making things look better, but those things really happened, and we used to say Washington was a place of giants.

You don't hear that much anymore.

  • Bob Schieffer On Twitter»

    Bob Schieffer is CBS News' chief Washington correspondent and anchor of Face the Nation.

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