A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Brent Budowsky
Ernest Hemingway once advised young authors to write "one true sentence". Here is mine:
Michael Douglas playing the commander-in-chief in The American President, said "these are serious times, that demand serious people."
Yet looking at Washington today, Americans think: "where have you gone Joe DiMaggio, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you?"
While our Capital is consumed with character destruction and corruption there is carnage in Iraq, chaos throughout the MIddle East, crisis in Korea, and the collapse of credibility of our leaders of government and our reputation and deterrence around the world.
Our people are digusted by the conduct of our government, and equally disgusted by content of our campaigns, which in their closing days, are deluging the nation with one last helping of the dirtmongering, that has brought the capital of our democracy into nearly total disrepute, with our good and decent citizenry. I am proposing here that after the election Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi go the President and offer the kind of government America must have in these troubled times, offering a new spirit of national unity, bipartisanship, shared purpose and a restoration of goodwill and civility in Washington.
The American people demand an end to the politics of division and destruction in Washington, the policies of division and destruction in the world, and the practices that dishonor the basic ideals of our national character.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will have the power to end the most egregious abuses, and the judgment and goodwill to treat America as a national family of shared patriotism and simple justice.
To the old hands who read this, please bear with me, I am addressing this to two groups, the leaders themselves and to patriotic Americans and young people who do not have insider knowledge of Washington but have the innate goodness and common sense that has always made America a great nation.
Every leader in every field of endeavor needs to think long and hard about recent studies that show an epidemic of cheating by young people in school. If the Crosby and Nash song said "teach your children" what are we, the elders, teaching the children, by our example?
What is at stake is more than the credibility of our discredited politics, or the disasters of our failed policies, or the distortions of our democracy. What is at stake is the heart and soul of whether we are a country of warring factions who do anything to win, or the country of the Statue of LIberty, a melting pot of freedom in which leaders bring out the best, not the worst, of our diverse people.
Are we nation of domestic enemies, at war with each other? Or a great American family, in which we are all in this together?
I'm gonna tell a few stories, and name a few names, all of which are true, all of which have a purpose here. The sickening spectacle of our national politics is not the way it has always been and is not the way it has to be.
When my friend Jim and I came to Washington as college freshmen, we paid a student trip to the Capitol and of all people, we bumped into Barry Goldwater. We shook his hand in the Old Russell Senate Office Building, and he sat down on the stairs and spent thirty minutes talking to us. He actually offered us jobs in his mailroom, even though we told him we were Robert Kennedy Democrats. Once upon a time in Washington, those things actually happened.
I ended up working for Birch Bayh, a great Senator, would have been a great president. It was amazing in those days working with Birch, and later with Lloyd Bentsen. At times the staff would go to the Senate Floor, either sitting in the back on couches, or sometimes, on a major bill, they had these tiny humiliating little chairs where we could sit right next to our bosses during the debate.
What was amazing about those days was, we could be on the Senate Floor and be within a handshake of one great giant after another. Large figures, historic figures, real giants. Hubert Humphrey, Barry Goldwater, Walter Mondale, Bob Dole, Lloyd Bentsen, Howard Baker, George Mitchell, Nancy Kassebaum, Birch Bayh, Jacob Javits, Bob Byrd, George McGovern, Sam Nunn, Jack Danforth, Alan Simpson, John Glenn and so many others.
It's a joke that every Senator privately thinks he (or she) should be president. In those days, there were probably 25 Senators from both parties who would have made good presidents. Every one of them had friends in the other party, relationships of trust and respect, and they often had friendships with Presidents, including Presidents of the other party.
I remember on a civil rights bill, Birch Bayh needed one more vote, and my boss Lloyd Bentsen came in like the cavalry, and we both went looking for his friend Jesse Helms.
Bentsen and Helms almost never agreed on anything, but in the Senate there are all kinds of friendships that the public never sees, which is how our democracy survives. I found Helms first, introduced myself in the subway car, briefed him on the pros and cons of the bill, and amazingly, he did it. "For Lloyd".
Young people might google former Senator Phil Hart, type in the phrase "Phil Hart Saint of the Senate," and you'll find the story about him by that name. I knew Hart through his daughter, and after he passed away got a nice note from his wonderful wife Janey, then a fierce anti-war protestor, but a beloved Senate wife as Hart was a beloved Senator.
If a reporter wanted to write a piece today about "the saint of the Senate" which Senator would be chosen?
These kinds of relationships still exist. Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch are a great example of two Senators who are giants from opposite parties, who get things done, together, for the nation.
Which brings me to Harry Reid.
In the best sense of the phrase, Senator Reid embodies the kind of old-fashioned Senator who combines progressive ideals, with a respect and reverence for the Senate as an institution. This is what America needs, a reverence for the United States Senate, its history and tradition, its unique role as a genuinely great deliberative body, as a true check and balance, as a partner on the great war powers issues and the great decisions of war and peace.
If our purpose is to restore public faith in our constitutional democracy, and bring civility and respect across the aisles, and set things right in Washington, Harry Reid will make an outstanding Senate Majority Leader with the judgement and temperament not only to stand on principle, but to reach out to the President and good Republican Senators such as John Warner and Chuck Hagel.
To young people, military families, moms and dads, men and women of faith concerned about the direction of our country and the failures in Washington, my point is this: what is happening today is not the way it has always been, not the way it has to be.
The same is historically true in the House of Representatives. I worked for the House Democratic Leadership during Republican Presidencies. My most important job was Legislative Director to Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Majority Whip during the days of Tip O'Neill and Jim Wright as Speaker and Majority Leader.
I began that job during the Lebanon crisis, the time when our Marines were killed in Beirut. I remember very clearly, in private meetings and secret sessions, Tip giving the order that were going to work with Reagan and his people and there would be no partisan criticism.
Every now and then the Speaker would gather leadership and staff in his office late in the evening. Sometimes I would be in the back of the room. The one night I remember the most, Tip and the others were sitting around with brandy and cigars and he was telling us how he had dinner with the Reagans the night before. How charming they were and Tip said if he stayed there long enough, President Reagan could charm anyone into anything.
No two people embodied partisan politics, very strong philosophical opinion and toughness like Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill. But they could work together and get together when the good of the country required.
Same was true of Jim Wright, even more partisan, and in those days, constantly under attack from Newt and the right. I was in a small meeting in Wright's office, on a national security issue I was deeply involved in, when a call came in from one of the highest ranking people in the Reagan Adminisration, a name everyone would know, who is still around.
I got up to leave, Wright put his finger across his lips to signal me to keep quiet, and stay put. Turns out the two giants were secretly collaborating on a major issue that was on the front page, two partisans, two warriors, working together.
In those days when Reagan was meeting with Gorbachev to change the world, some of his biggest secret supporters were leaders of the Democrats, while some of his biggest public critics were leaders of the neoconservatives.
The point is, what is happening today with the one party partisanship, the demonization and character destruction politics, the divisions in our country is not the normal way, it is the deviant way. It is reminiscent of the Joseph McCarthy years and the Nixon years. The Washington I describe is much closer to the way it was before I was born and after I will die.
Which brings me to Nancy Pelosi.
To understand the Leader, think of Nancy Pelosi not as San Francisco but as Baltimore. She comes from a true street smart Democratic family, and she comes from a close knit and loving extended ethnic family with strong values and strong minds.
The page scandal could never happen under Speaker Pelosi, as it has happened under Speaker Hastert. For two reasons. Sure there will be Members in the future who will do these things. But, the immediate reaction of Nancy Pelosi would be simple, she would view this as though it happened to one of her children, and her immediate instinct would be to castrate not protect the perpetrator.
And for this reason, and institutional respect, she would have immediately told every member of the page board, from both parties. Nancy Pelosi comes from a political and personal background that respects diversity and brings people together. She is a tough cookie, and she plays to win, but she views politics and government as a collaborative process of democracy. Nancy Pelosi is quintessentially American and her Speakership I predict will look like Tip O'Neill's in the best sense.
My advice to young people and everyone who believes in higher standards and change is to register, vote, find candidates to give a little money to, volunteer time on election day and understand that the way things are, is not the normal way.
What is happening today in Washington is not the way it has been before, it is ugly, strange, deviant, and wrong. Almost every previous president had relationships with leaders in the other party, as Reagan did with Tip, as George Herbert Walker Bush did with Chairman Dan Rostenkowski. Almost every previous Senate and House had serious working relationships between Democrats and Republicans, with courtesies and friendships and working respect that are far too rare today.
The people are demanding change.
The people are demanding an end to the mindless and ugly partisanship. The people are demanding the restoration of democratic institutions, democratic civility, and democratic attitudes and procedures The people are demanding leaders in Washington who act like adults with integrity, who put the country ahead of their partisan interests and their perpetual vindictiveness. Therefore, my advice to Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi, in the final days of the campaign is to go the country with a vision of what America will be, with a Democratic Congress. A vision of the America that has been, and can be, and should be, and must be again, which is all our people ask for.
A vision offering the President a national unity government with policies that work and a spirit putting patriotism ahead of partisanship.
A vision that asks the President to abandon disasterous policies that are privately or publicly opposed by our commanders, and intelligence services, and major allies, and learn from the lessons of what has gone wrong.
A vision of a unity that brings us together with bravery and does not tear apart through fear.
A vision of a generosity that brings our houses of worship and military families together to help homeless veterans and wounded troops, not a smallness that makes excuses for the use of torture that George Washington himself warned us, is the wrong road for America to travel.
A vision that includes a role for the senior statesmen and stateswomen from both parties including Colin Powell and Jim Baker, including Sam Nunn and Bob Dole, including former Secretary of State Albright and former Supreme Court Justice O'Connor and others with global stature, wisdom and crediblity.
A vision that restores the United States Senate as an institution that respects great leaders from both parties; that restores the United States House of Representatives as an institution that is the people's house that values all of the people; that restores our government in Washington as an enterprise that involves two political parties and three branches of government in a democratic system of checks, balances, mutual respect and civic integrity, goodwill and crediblity.
Let's stop teaching our young to cheat, and lets start inspiring our young to lead, to be great, to view public service as an honorable and noble and worthy field of endeavor.
Let's make a model of the young Americans who serve bravely in combat, who serve generously in the Peace Corps, who serve their faith and their community from the soup kitchens to the high school food drives.
Let's have leaders who inspire every young person and every American and every friend freedom who wants to look to America, once again, as a beacon for the world.
Democratic Leaders should both challenge and offer the President a good faith and common sense path that can end the crisis in Iraq, end the crisis of crediblity of our leaders and end the acrimonious politics of disrespect, and division, which are hurting our country, our democracy, our security, our troops, our communities and our crediblity around the world. The people are demanding change. The Democrats are offering it and the big change the people demand the most, is an end to the acrimony and ugliness of Washington and the beginning of a new era of reform and national reconciliation.
If Democratic Leaders take this case to the country, we will have a new morning in America on the day after this election, and a moment of opportunity to build a future that resembles the greatness of our past, not the failures of our present.