WASHINGTON — These days, most dispatches from Washington focus on petty partisanship, posturing, impasses and a political culture that rewards confrontation.
Here's a respite: a story of kindness, comity, generosity reaching across the political divide.
It's about the two senators from Illinois, Dick Durbin, a 30-year veteran of Congress, and Mark Kirk, a freshman. Durbin is the Senate Democratic whip; Kirk represents the bluest, or most Democratic, state of any Republican senator.
Fifteen months ago, at age 52, Kirk suffered a sudden ischemic stroke while in Illinois; it was serious, and he was in a coma for a week. After regaining consciousness, he believed he was in danger of dying and doubted he would return to the Senate. He endured three operations and strenuous rehabilitation to learn to walk and function.
Immediately after the stroke, one of the first visitors to Kirk's stunned Washington office was Durbin.
"It was such a shock," the Democratic lawmaker recalls. "We just wanted to pitch in and help any way we could."
Durbin "came with his chief of staff and told us they would do anything to work with us — legislation, constituent mail — to call anytime we needed him," says Kate Dickens, who runs Kirk's Senate office. "He said, 'I'm your acting senator.' It was very comforting."
Durbin later visited the recovering senator at home, and they had a lengthy one-on-one conversation. Every commitment was fulfilled. Press releases were issued jointly; they co-sponsored legislation and undertook collaborative projects in their state. Their offices worked together closely. The Republican staffers recall that when questions persisted about whether Kirk would return to the Senate, it was Durbin who insisted that he would.
Their collaboration got results. Despite the logjam of judicial appointments, Durbin made sure that a Kirk appointee, John Tharp, was confirmed as a judge on the U.S. District Court in Northern Illinois.