Baker, Mitchell: Bipartisanship They Knew is Gone

Posted in: G-Town News- Nov 18, 2010 Comments Off on Baker, Mitchell: Bipartisanship They Knew is Gone

November 18, 2010 –Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Sen. George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) bemoaned the lack of bipartisanship in today’s American politics as they were jointly awarded a prize for public service at Georgetown Nov. 17.

The Republican and Democrat friends received the Elliot L. Richardson Prize for Excellence in Public Service from the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), which partnered with the Georgetown Public Policy Institute for the event.

“At every critical juncture in human history when there is a threat of instability, there tends to be upheaval and hard feelings,” said Mitchell, a 1961 graduate of Georgetown’s law school and President Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East, “…but I do agree that the situation now is worse than it’s ever been.”

Power of the Media

He blamed the lack of bipartisanship on the “enormous power of the electronic media … that lends itself to short, negative, inflammatory remarks” and the “enormous amount of money” involved in politics that has led Americans to believe politicians are “more in debt to their contributors than their constituents.”

The only way to combat these problems, he said, is to “reduce the degree of uncertainty and instability, and yes, fear, that makes people easy prey to demagogues and ideologues and those who seek to exploit [the situation].”

Baker, who was chief of staff in the George H.W. Bush administration when Mitchell was Senate majority leader, agreed, but wasn’t “convinced that economic prosperity will cure the problem.”

Bipartisanship: Gone

“With the emergence of the Internet, anybody can write whatever what want and throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks,” Baker said in his Texas drawl. “Once it’s out there in the ether it’s pretty hard to retract it.”

“The bipartisanship that we knew and that we exercised and we practiced is gone,” he said.

Waiting it Out

The National Journal group’s editorial director, Ron Brownstein, read questions from the audience and moderated the event, which the politicians often peppered with humor.

When asked to name their toughest negotiators, for example, Baker picked Hafez al-Assad, president of Syria from 1971-2000.

The former secretary of state explained it took him a long time to get al-Assad to sit down for talks with Israel, and noted that the Syrian leader is mentioned in one of his book’s chapters called “Bladder Diplomacy.”

“He would really wait you out,” Baker joked.

GPPI Dean Edward Montgomery praised the winners before the politicians were introduced.

Public Good

“James Baker and George Mitchell have lived remarkable lives and have never shirked from contributing their substantial talents and skills for the public good,” he said. “They have left us richer as a nation for their service and for their example.”

Toward the end of the event, Brownstein asked the politicians if they had any advice for public policy students.

“Get involved in the political process,” Mitchell said. “…The most important thing in life is to have a genuine, meaningful goal that is larger than your self-image, in which you can commit yourself to wholeheartedly, physically, spiritually and mentally,” he said. “That’s the real reward in life.”
 

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