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Where have you gone, Tip O'Neill? Or for that matter, Mike Mansfield, Bob Dole, Howard Baker and George Mitchell?

In your day, we could depend on the leaders of our two major parties in Congress to do what was -- at least, most of the time -- best for the majority of Americans and their families. You'd have your rhetorical and ideological battles. But when you had to, you worked out your differences and came to a compromise that didn't give either side the whole loaf, but allowed everyone to come away with a few slices.

Democrats or Republicans couldn't claim a clear victory, but the American people normally could.

What happened to those days? Now, with the 2004 election over, we're probably right back where we started from. There'll be a honeymoon period in name but not in reality. The president will announce his 100-day plan and the senators and congressmen will applaud his State of the Union. And 101 days from the inauguration, if not sooner, we'll be back into a polarized situation with rhetoric winning over governance. And we'll get little progress on the major issues of the day.

Remember when a congressman from a small state all of a sudden would appear in a national news story brokering a resolution to a complicated problem? When's the last time you read a story like that? Now it's toe the party line or don't get that choice committee assignment; or preferred redistricting; or the vitally needed visit by top party leaders to raise money.

We've got a bunch of legislators who would rather look good losing than compromising and moving an issue down the road.

Ronald Reagan stood strong in his beliefs. Everyone knew what his principles were and where he wanted to take the country. But he didn't take his ball and go home when he didn't get his way. He worked things out.

Where did we go wrong? I'm not sure we did. We have seen a very right wing take over the Republican Party's structure and policy-making. But they earned it. They knocked on the doors. They ran for local and state Republican committees. They ran for the school boards. They did the grass-roots work that politics calls for to gain power.

The same thing has happened in the Democratic Party, where labor and other groups did the work and won the spoils, where Hollywood types can gain the spotlight at key times to push their agendas.

But where are the men and women who close a deal and remember that one key rule of negotiations is trying not to make the other person look bad, even if they aren't getting everything they want? Both sides could walk out of the conference room with dignity and something for their constituencies.

It wasn't that long ago that we had that quality of person in politics. Joe DiMaggio didn't answer when Paul Simon asked where he had gone. Maybe Tip O'Neill will some day.

B. Jay Cooper served as deputy White House press secretary to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He currently is senior vice president at APCO Worldwide, an international communications firm.

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