John Dickerson at The Nation explains:
Unlike in the House, where the majority can make the minority hand over its lunch money, Lott and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will have a lot of power in the Senate, where 60 votes are needed to get anything done. Lott will relish using his tricks and collaborating with his longtime friend McConnell to thwart Democrats. But he may also help pass more legislation than he kills. Lott is a conservative, but he's also a dealmaker. Three weeks after he took over for Bob Dole in 1996, he summoned his colleagues into the Senate chamber to criticize them at length for refusing to pass laws. He told Democrats and Republicans alike that the Senate had gotten "all balled up here." In the last days of that session, he surprised Washington by taking the initiative to produce a variety of compromises with the Clinton White House on health-care portability, budget cuts, and welfare.
A few quick achievements would help recast Lott as a competent legislator and bury the blight of his remarks four years ago. When bipartisanship serves his self-interest, Lott can be a Democrat's best friend[.]
Ultimately, this may come down to how we as opinion people on the left want this Congress to operate. Are we going to be a group that sounds the trumpets of bipartisanship in an effort to work with the other side of the aisle for the good of America? Or are we going to attempt to stick it to the GOP as early and as often as we possibly can, given how the Dems were treated during our years in the minority? Do we continue the tradition of partisan politics and pointless gridlock or do we attempt to return to a time before the so-called Republican Revolution, where a political party would win some and lose some, but at the end of the day, compromise was king? For all his faults, Lott appears to be a politician of the latter stripe. And if we truly want to change things and make life better for the average American and return our nation to a semblance of its former (pre-Bush) days, there are certainly worse people to reach across the aisle and shake hands with.