- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2008


Whether Barack Obama or John McCain wins the presidency on Tuesday, it should be clear that at no other time since 1864 have the need and the chance for a bipartisan coalition government been greater.

In 1864, with the Civil War entering its fourth year, Abraham Lincoln was politically weakened by three years of war with no end in sight and facing a strong Democratic opponent in George McClellan, former general of the Army of the Potomac. With the nation facing the greatest crisis in its history, Lincoln knew he needed something new and different to broaden his political base and create the greatest opportunity for post-Civil War reconstruction and national unity.

To the great displeasure of the Republican anti-slavery radicals in his party, he asked a Democratic senator from Tennessee, Andrew Johnson, to be his vice-presidential running mate. Johnson, while pro-Union, was known to be soft on the Southern-state confederates and had supported Southern-state Democratic candidate John Breckenridge in the 1860 presidential campaign.

Lincoln’s assassination the month after his inauguration ended his plan to create a bipartisan Cabinet that would govern, in the words of his second inaugural speech, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

The 2008 election presents another appropriate time when bipartisan unity government is needed more than ever.

With the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, with the largest percentage of Americans (80 percent) saying the country is going in the wrong direction, with eight years of political polarization that have divided the country in two consecutive presidential elections, and with hyperpartisanship continuing to paralyze Washington, now is the time for a “time out” on partisan politics to get government back into the solutions business.

Ted Sorenson, former speechwriter for John F. Kennedy, proposed in his 1984 book, “A Different Kind of Presidency,” a “grand coalition” government in which the president and vice president would be from different parties and the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet would be evenly split between the parties.

While a bipartisan presidency is not possible in 2008, a bipartisan Cabinet and style of governance seem likely if either Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain is elected president Tuesday. Even if Mr. Obama wins in a landslide and the Democrats win 60 Senate seats and a super-majority in the House, President-elect Obama should not yield to the temptation to organize a partisan government and run over the Republican minority.

Now is the time to seek and achieve the broadest possible public support across the political spectrum, so that America can develop long-term solutions rather than the usual short-term fixes designed to win congressional elections two years hence.

As Mr. Sorenson wrote in 1984, reacting to the concerns raised by a dangerous nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the U.S.: “We must create through compromise a national consensus that reaches beyond partisan politics. There need be no exclusively ‘Republican answer’ or ‘Democratic answer.’ … [Our problems] require practical solutions not dependent upon ideology, personality, or political history.”

Whether Mr. Obama or Mr. McCain is elected president, the opportunities for thoughtful, moderate and conservative Democrats or Republicans who are known not for partisanship but for statesmanship are many: Sen. Chuck Hagel, Nebraska Republican; former Sen. Sam Nunn, Georgia Democrat; Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent; outgoing Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican; former Sen. David L. Boren, Oklahoma Democrat; former Rep. Jack Kemp, New York Republican; and Indiana’s two U.S. senators, Republican Richard G. Lugar and Democrat Evan Bayh.

That great diplomatic talent - New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat who has saved lives around the world to obtain the release of abducted political prisoners - should be used by the next president as a roving ambassador of good will, even as he remains as governor.

Also possible would be the creation of a bipartisan commission to find a long-term solution, once and for all, to preserve the solvency of the Social Security system. Imaginative co-chairmen could be recruited among former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican; former Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell, Maine Democrat; former Rep. John Kasich, Ohio Republican; and former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta, California Democrat.

What we need, as I wrote to end my 2006 book, “Scandal: How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America,” is a new administration that can reach across party and ideological lines to inspire all Americans to take personal responsibility and to sacrifice for the public good.

If the next president can inspire us to do that, then we can experience the vision of Thomas Macaulay in “Horatius at the Bridge,” with which Mr. Sorensen and I chose to end our respective books:

“Then none was for a party;

Then all were for the state;

Then the great man helped the poor,

And the poor man loved the great;

Then lands were fairly portioned;

Then spoils were fairly sold:

The Romans were like brothers

In the brave days of old.”

Lanny Davis is a prominent Washington lawyer and a political analyst. From 1996 to 1998, he served as special counsel to President Clinton. From 2005 to 2006, he served on President Bush’s five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

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