Monday, September 12, 2011

If They Can Partner Later, Why Not Do So Now?

Gerald Ford served less than one term in the White House before being defeated for re-election by Jimmy Carter. Jimmy Carter served only one term in the White House before being defeated by Ronald Reagan and his running mate, George Herbert Bush. George Herbert Bush served only one term in the White House before being defeated by Bill Clinton. It is the story of American politics. At the time of the elections the candidates are presented to the electorate, by their proponents, as saviors on white horses, while their opponents are depicted as the personification of all evil.

In 1996, after Alice and I retired we took a trip to Germany, and from there to France and various countries south of Germany. On both of those latter trips, which were short guided tours, we linked up with a couple from Nebraska and enjoyed the opportunity to share our common faith and other interests. However, Alice and I sat quietly when the conversation turned to politics. Our Nebraska friends were convinced that Bill Clinton was, if not the Anti-Christ, the very next thing to it. The husband expressed the firm conviction that if Clinton were re-elected that fall, Christians would be rounded up, placed in rail-road boxcars, and carried off to concentration camps. We didn’t maintain contact with the couple after returning but I’ve often wondered how they responded to Clinton’s re-election a couple of months later.

There is an interesting phenomenon that I’ve observed in recent years. Former political enemies coming together to support some good, often philanthropic, cause. Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford did so, becoming close friends and working together on issues of foreign and domestic policy. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush united after the Haiti earthquake to build a fund to assist the survivors and help rebuild the country’s infrastructure. Bill Clinton and George Herbert Bush also became close friends and Clinton joined Bush in raising funds for the “Thousand Points of Light” volunteerism institute. And just this week it was announced that House Speaker John Boehner will join Clinton in a fundraising effort for the memorial for the victims of Flight 93.

The question all of this raises for me is, “Why can these men, who, in some instances, demonized each other while they were political appointments, lay that aside to do good work after leaving office?” Or perhaps a better question might be, “If they can lay their differences aside to accomplish something good after they leave office, why can’t they do so at the time when they are leading the nation and have greater opportunity to do good for all the people?

We are in need of cooperative government right now and speaker Boehner has been about as obstructionist as he can be over the last two-and-a-half years. Perhaps some of that stems from his position as the leader of a diverse group of Republican congressmen. If he alienates the radical wing of his party he may lose control of his party. But we have reached the point where we need men and women who put the interests of the country above the interests of their party or their own re-election.

It is admirable that Boehner is working with Clinton to raise funds for the memorial. It would be both admirable and good for the country for him to team up with President Obama to forge a truly bi-partisan effort to turn our economy around and put people back to work. In fact I’d have them go beyond bi-partisanship to an apolitical solution – one that looks only at the results for the American people without regard to politics at all. That is perhaps asking for a superhuman effort but the least they can do is forge a partnership – while still in office – like those that others before them have formed after leaving office.

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