Over the Québec, Canadian, and U.S. holidays, I had the good fortune to read a book entitled “The Presidents’ Club”, written by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy. It is a story about the world’s most exclusive and unique club – living former U.S. President and how they interact.
What struck me in the accounts is how Presidents of different parties can actually find common ground for the common good. How Republican Hebert
Hoover helped Democratic President Henry Truman to lead a food drive in post-World War II Europe and prevent the starvation of 100 million people. And how Hoover also helped design the executive branch in a nuclear, Cold-War world.
We see how Eisenhower and Kennedy found ways to help each other, how Nixon had an influence on Clinton, how Ford and Carter became close friends, and how Clinton and the Bushes did things together for the greater good. In a world of polarized politics on the left-right continuum, this book projects a degree of hope that there are politicians who can overcome the partisan debates of the day and the spin wars in the media, and act for something more important.
Politics in the past decade in the U.S., Canada, and my home province of Québec has seen a greater degree of polarization and divisiveness. Very often, insults are hurled in the heat of the debate, forgetting the need to keep civility as the cornerstone of democratic debate. The media and social media networks appear to feed on these spectacles of one-upmanship. Meanwhile, an increasingly frustrated electorate turns off, opts out, and stays home. Who is to blame?
The Left easily blames the ills of society on the Right. And the Right questions the designs of the Left in civil societies that cherish freedom and the progress of humankind. Politicians often trained in crafting sound bites no longer can plead their case for the greater good. Media, now more a profit making venture than at any time in history, pursue ratings at the risk of failing to adequately inform the electorate.
This is why we need to go back in history, and highlight the moments and the players who made great things happen. Our educational systems need to be more than utilitarian; they need to provide the basis for enlightened discussion and debate. The greater good is best served by opening to new and different ideas, irrespective of the source. “The Presidents’ Club” shows that bipartisanship can be the surest way to responding to the greater good. Happy 4th of July.
John Parisella is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center.