If this election is to prove anything, it is that the public will not tolerate the continuance of political gridlock. Both Presidents G.W. Bush and Barack Obama came to office with the expectation of making our political system work. However, in each case these hopes were dashed on the rocks of partisan dissent. This has not only increased fragmentation but it has also fostered more extreme passion and anger than we have witnessed since 1968 when assassination and violence were the order of the day.
What our nation needs now is a brief respite from daily political assaults and more time to ponder where we are going. Lewis Carroll warned us in Alice in Wonderland that if we did not know where we were going, any road would get us there. We must pick a road.
Next January when a new President is inaugurated, the same divides will plague us and, likely, many of the same leaders will continue. How then will change occur?
Since I have publicly supported Hillary Clinton, I advance these ideas with the hope and expectation that she will be our next President and give them consideration.
As President, she will face a divided Congress or one that is unified for or against her. Further, no matter the extent of victory, it will largely be interpreted as a vote against her opponent and not a mandate for her.
If Democrats control Congress, the likely plan would be to quickly ram the Clinton agenda through Congress including appointments to the Supreme Court.
The problem with that approach is that it tends to lead to half-baked legislation and will likely result in political retaliation in 2018 and then more gridlock.
History has shown us that successful leaders know how to bring in the opposition and make them part of the administration’s agenda. Modern examples would include Bill Clinton’s partnership with Newt Gingrich which led to welfare reform and a balanced budget and Richard Nixon bringing in Patrick Moynihan, a Democrat, as domestic advisor. In reality, virtually all Presidents have reached across the aisle to appoint the opposing party to cabinet posts, etc.
But none can compare to the impact of the partnerships formed by Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman.
Roosevelt reached out to his political opponent, Wendell Willkie, after the election of 1940, and asked him to serve as his personal representative to Great Britain. FDR truly respected Willkie’s commitment to internationalism at a time when Republicans were isolationists. With this appointment, the President put the world on notice that the United States speaks with one-voice. Further, the strength of this partnership helped Roosevelt pass his land-lease plan to aid Great Britain in 1941 and impose a selective service plan. It was a masterful use of power and, ultimately, led to true bi-partisan support for the war effort.
Likewise, President Truman reached out to former President Herbert Hoover to create a commission to modernize and create efficiencies in the federal government. Hoover, perhaps the most talented manager to ever occupy the White House, had rescued Europe from starvation after World War I by creating and implementing a complex plan that literally fed millions of displaced and homeless victims of the war.
Following World War II, Truman asked Hoover to do the same and again he responded with the same success.
What was truly important about this partnership was that Truman, a very partisan Democrat, had reached out to Herbert Hoover who had been blamed for the depression and gave him an opportunity to serve with ability and pride. Both men gained but the world benefitted the most.
What Truman and Roosevelt understood was that bi-bipartisanship was a powerful weapon in building support with the public and using that support to move legislation through Congress.
Perhaps no one has done more work in this area than Doris Goodwin with her books on Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson.
Bi-partisanship works because the public embraces it and, in a two-party system, it is truly the only way to successfully govern.
The good news is that Hillary Clinton has a natural bent towards working with opposing sides. Fundamentally, she is far more oriented toward public policy than partisan conflict. As a Senator, Republicans praised her ability to work well with all.
But under the set of circumstances likely to prevail in January, limited bi-partisan tactics will not be sufficient for success. I would submit that trust will remain the overall concern. In today’s environment virtually anyone will be harmed by the relentless partisan attacks and media scrutiny. But is should also be remembered that all too often public servants regardless of party have engaged in highly dubious pursuits of self-interest. The problem of ethical behavior must be addressed in order to allow government to function. Rebuilding trust is a must.
With this in mind, I would suggest that the next President focus on at least two major bi-partisan efforts.
The first would be a commission to review and reform ethics in government covering all three branches of government with a sharp focus on not only current conflicts of interests but also those decisions made today that feather a public official’s nest tomorrow.
This commission should largely be citizens outside government but possess the stature and knowledge to be effective. I personally cannot think of anyone more qualified than our own Kathleen Blatz, a Republican, who served with great distinction as a legislator and Chief Judge of the Minnesota Supreme Court. She would work extraordinarily well with someone like former Senate Democrat leader, George Mitchell.
Simply put, confidence and trust in public service must be restored and we, the public, must hold all public servants to the highest standard of integrity.
The second task force would be responsible for a Hoover-type overhaul of our sprawling and complicated federal government and our growing debt burden. With two million employees our government is too large, too opaque and too duplicatory to continue without a massive overhaul. And the growing cost of debt is squeezing out our flexibility to properly fund needed programs. Consider that 65 percent of our budget is mandatory and debt costs equal seven percent and are growing. We are now in a crisis.
One Republican with a superb background in management and finance comes to mind: Mitt Romney. He has an excellent background in both the private and public sectors. What particularly comes to mind is the remarkable job he did in reforming the Winter Olympics. He was truly superb. More importantly, he has the confidence of the broad Republican Party and will work well with President Hillary Clinton’s appointees. Erskine Bowles would be a solid Democratic appointment. His work on deficit reduction was top notch.
Finally, I would suggest that the new President reach out to Senator John McCain as an advisor on foreign affairs. Whether McCain is re-elected or not, he is an incredibly valuable asset. His voice is essential on a bi-partisan stage.
Hillary Clinton has spoken out clearly on being President of all Americans. Now, she should openly discuss how she will bring us together in a way that maximizes cooperation and good fellowship and minimizes bitterness and anger. It must be a summons of the best and brightest for public service with the understanding that all public servants understand that they are the temporary stewards of the public good.