The Carnegie Council's lecture series on civility is made possible with generous support from the Dilenschneider Group.
JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council and the Dilenschneider Group, we are delighted today to be welcoming as our luncheon speakers two very distinguished former politicians, John Brademas, on my left, and Mickey Edwards, on my right.
They will be discussing a topic which they are not only familiar with, but, through their actions, personify what civility in politics means.
Briefly, John Brademas represented Indiana's Third District in the U.S. House of Representatives for a total of 22 years, from 1959 to 1981. For the last four of those years, he was the majority whip, the third-ranking member of the Democratic leadership in the House. Mickey was a leading Republican congressman from Oklahoma, having served in the House for 16 years, from 1977 to 1992. He became a senior member of the House Republican leadership and served on several important committees. Both have gone on to make their marks with outstanding careers in academia.
For years, politics has been considered the art of compromise, but for many of today's political players, compromise is an untenable concept. The rise of the Tea Party, liberal backlash, and the exodus of moderate voices from Congress all have pointed toward the public's growing discontent. The Republican and Democratic Parties seem entrenched in calcified partisanship, and recent events indicate that gridlock is still the norm, so much so that civility in politics has become an oxymoron.
As two people from two different sides of the political aisle, John and Mickey, throughout their remarkable political careers, have embodied respect for the other. They know that you can disagree without being disagreeable and that civility in politics can be the norm rather than the exception.
Accordingly, I would like to ask them how we can restore a dialogue that simultaneously produces the agreement necessary to advance the common good while respecting the voices of protest that often contribute to social progress. John will make opening remarks, and Mickey will conclude.
JOHN BRADEMAS: Let me begin by thanking Joel Rosenthal, president of the Carnegie Council, and Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, for inviting Mickey Edwards and me to be with you all today. Although he could not join us, I would like especially to thank my friend Bob Dilenschneider, whose support has made possible this series on civility.
It is, I think you will all agree, an important topic, especially the civility in politics we are here to discuss today. It pleases me greatly that I'm joined in this discussion by my friend and former colleague, Mickey Edwards. Mickey, through his service in the House of Representatives, his teaching at Harvard and Princeton, and his work at the Aspen Institute, has been one of the finest examples I know of civility in public life. Mickey is one of the most thoughtful persons who have served in the House, someone who remains true to his convictions and has always worked to put his ideas into practice. He typifies everything that we as citizens should want and expect from a political leader.
Thank you, Mickey, for joining us.
I would like to offer some observations from my own service in Congress, as well as the current state of politics, and offer a few modest recommendations for improving civility in the public sphere.
I was for 22 years, from 1959 to 1981, a member of the United States House of Representatives. I served with six presidents, three Republicans, Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, and three Democrats, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter. In Congress I served on three committees: Education and Labor, House Administration, and the Joint—that is to say, House-Senate—Committee on the Library of Congress. I took an active part in writing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, Head Start, college student aid, and the legislation creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the Humanities, the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Act, and measures to support libraries and museums. In my last four years in Congress, I was, by appointment of the speaker, Tip O'Neill, the majority whip of the House, number three in the Democratic Party leadership.
After 22 years of service in the United States House of Representatives, I was, in my campaign for a 12th term, defeated in Ronald Reagan's landslide victory over President Carter. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to become president of New York University, a position in which I served until 1992, when I became president emeritus, my present position.
My principal project now is the John Brademas Center for the Study of Congress, which examines the roles of Congress as a policymaking institution. I remind you that in our separation-of-powers constitutional system, when it comes to making national policy, Congress—unlike the House of Commons, for example, in the British parliamentary system—counts. If a senator or representative knows what he or she is doing and if the configuration of political forces makes action possible, that senator or representative can, without picking up the telephone to call the White House, write the laws of the land.
With 100 senators and 435 representatives, and normally no strict party discipline, Congress is not an easy institution to understand, even for informed persons. Located in NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, our center engages senators and representatives, current and former, Democrats and Republicans—this is not a partisan issue—congressional staffers, journalists, students, and scholars to discuss the processes, the ways by which our national legislature influences and shapes policy, as well as significant issues of public policy. By encouraging the exchange of ideas among scholars and policymakers, the center promotes the creation and dissemination of knowledge and public understanding of what is, after all, the first branch of government.
Let me say that it would be a mistake simply to dismiss our current state of affairs and look longingly back to a time when politics was marked by its civility, because we risk becoming nostalgic for a more civil time that may never have really existed. I myself served in Congress in the era of the fight for civil rights legislation and the terrible divisions over the Vietnam War. I was there on the floor of the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, where members of my own delegation, the Indiana delegation, were shouting one another down and refusing to recognize speakers, not to mention the riots going on outside.
I was the principal author of a bill, the Comprehensive Child Development bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support in the House of Representative—the bill then was vetoed by President Nixon. In a demagogic veto message, Nixon accused Walter Mondale, my coauthor in the Senate, and me of trying to collectivize the American family, impugning communist motivation to our attempt to provide federal support on a voluntary basis for child care.
Needless to say, when Nixon's enemies list was reported by the press, I was congratulated by my colleagues on the House floor for the honor of having achieved a spot on it.
Yet during this era of civil rights, Vietnam, and Watergate, I was privileged to serve with some of the finest public servants—Birch Bayh, William Fulbright, Jacob Javits, Ted Kennedy, Tip O'Neill. In times of terrible divisiveness in the country and in Congress, we worked together, Republicans and Democrats, to create enduring programs and institutions, from Medicare to the National Endowment for the Arts, from the Peace Corps to the Apollo space program. The pieces of legislation I'm most proud of having worked on—the Education for All Handicapped Children Act and the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Act—were passed by Democratic congresses and signed into law by a Republican president, Gerald Ford.
My point here is that while there may be no golden age of civility in politics, perhaps we can still learn some lessons from how, even during periods of tragedy, division, and conflict in American society and politics, leaders could still find common ground and identity and work together on important issues.
One of the biggest changes since the time Mickey and I were in the House is the weakening of the congressional committee system. I arrived on Capitol Hill when committees and their chairmen were nearly all-powerful, and the old Southern Democrats who chaired many committees used their positions to kill any civil rights legislation, even when it would have had the support of a majority of the House. It took President Johnson, using up the political capital he gained from his landslide victory in 1964, finally to bypass these old bulls and push the Civil Rights Act through Congress.
So I am not calling for a return to an era when committee chairs exercised absolute control over legislation, but I did serve at a time when committees played a greater and more positive role. Committees had adequate staff resources. We held hearings, not just for show on C-SPAN and cable news, but seriously to get input from witnesses as we crafted legislation and to build support among constituents for a bill. By working out legislation in committee and by having Republican and Democratic staffers working together, it often—I won't say always—helped produce legislation that was built on consensus, with input from more junior members and from both sides of the aisle.
When I was chairman of the Subcommittee on Education and working on a bill, I would ask the ranking Republican member, Al Quie of Minnesota, whom he would like invited to testify before the subcommittee. I didn't have to do this, but it was an effective way to build trust and cooperation between the Democrats and the Republicans on the committee. Then, when it came time to marking up a bill, I would turn to Quie and say, "Al, what do you need on this bill to vote for it?"
So while a bill we reported may not have been one my Republican colleagues would ever have written themselves, it contained ideas they offered and was a measure they could support.
But beginning with the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, the trend has been to consolidate power in the leadership at the expense of committees. Unfortunately, this trend was not reversed when the Democrats took again control of Congress in 2006, and it continues today. The cutting of resources, such as reductions in committee staff and elimination of the research offices, has meant more and more reliance on lobbyists, who provide research and even the language of a bill. The most important legislation is now written in the leadership office. The speaker and majority and minority leaders from each chamber then appoint the conferees who hash out the final bill between the House and Senate. Then the leadership moves the final bill through the floors for passage. Committees are often relegated to the role of bystanders in this process.
The result has been more and more omnibus bills and attaching nongermane items to so-called "must-pass" bills, such as Defense Department appropriations, in order to get them through the Senate. Mickey and I are children of the House, so I'm afraid I have few specific recommendations for improving that more peculiar chamber, the Senate.
Although our topic is now civility, I'm reminded of an old story of when I was on Capitol Hill during a bitter floor fight on a piece of legislation. A freshman Democratic member of the House was talking with a more senior member when the freshman referred to the Republicans as "the enemy."
"Never call Republicans the enemy," he admonished his junior colleagues. "They are the opposition. It's the Senate that is the enemy."
We are, in fact, looking at a Senate which, if the current trend of votes this year continues, is on track to being one of the least productive when measured in numbers of votes taken, bills passed, and appointments confirmed.
One recommendation I do have is for the Senate to pass the Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act, which has been reported by the Government Affairs Committee and is awaiting action by the full Senate. The act would remove from Senate confirmation around 200 positions from executive branch departments and agencies that are not involved in policymaking or budget decisions. Hundreds of presidential appointments currently require Senate confirmation, and nominees languish for months waiting for votes, leaving offices in departments and agencies without leadership and discouraging qualified persons from serving.
Individual senators have been loath to give up their leverage afforded by the ability to hold up a confirmation, holding a nominee hostage to extract concessions from the White House on unrelated matters. Passing this act would be a good first step at reform and improving civility in the appointments and confirmation process
I served at a time before BlackBerries and cell phones and when air travel was such that members were not able to get back regularly to their home districts. Now, for good or bad, electronic devices keep senators and representatives in constant contact, not just with family at home, but with staff and media, and the congressional calendar is designed so that members can work midweek on the Hill and then fly home for three or four days over the weekend. Senators and representatives are constantly working, whether in Washington or their districts, but they are spending far less time, professionally and socially, with each other.
The Brademas Center recently brought to NYU former senators Trent Lott and Tom Daschle. Lott and Daschle served as the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and then went back and forth between the majority and minority during that time, neither ever approaching a filibuster-proof majority.
Yet during these years, despite their significant differences in policy, they both worked together to get the business of the Senate done. Neither punitively gummed up the works of the Senate when they were in the minority. What they both gave the most credit to in how they worked to get legislation moved through the chamber and appointments confirmed—and I assure you that the record of the Senate since their departure as leaders has gone downhill in these areas —was their personal friendship. Senators Lott and Daschle would speak every day, either in person or by phone. They and their wives would go to dinner together. They stressed how this friendship prevented them from impugning the motives of the other and created an atmosphere of cooperation even in the face of such difficult circumstances as the impeachment trial of President Clinton or in the days after the September 11 attacks. I only wish the current leaders of the Senate would take this lesson to heart.
Besides technological changes, another reason there is so little time for members to interact socially and build the relationships needed for bipartisan cooperation is the financial costs of political campaigns today. To run an effective campaign, some candidates for the House need to raise over $1 million, and for the Senate, $10 million. With individual contributions restricted to $2,400 each, members of the House and Senate have to devote an inordinate amount of time to calling potential donors and organizing and attending fundraising events.
I have long been a proponent of campaign finance reform. I worked on the legislation restricting contributions and spending which came after the abuses of the Watergate scandal. I was a member of the Committee for Economic Development, which galvanized business support for the McCain-Feingold law, which banned unlimited contributions of soft money to political parties.
We are now also faced with the prospect of unlimited spending by corporations, following the Citizens United decision of the Supreme Court. The 2012 presidential and congressional election will be the first test of this new influence by corporate money.
Here my recommendation would be for public financing of federal campaigns. As citizens, we should support the use of public resources for a public good—in this case, the process of selecting the best persons to represent us in Congress. Several states and cities have adopted such financing for local campaigns. For example, I understand that here in New York City candidates for public office receive a four-to-one match for small contributions. A similar system for congressional candidates could help ease the relentless chase for dollars, freeing up the time of members of Congress for other business and reducing the influence of large donors and lobbyists. I believe a result would be a more civil discourse in Washington.
Another recommendation for election reform I have is for states to adopt nonpartisan redistricting commissions. I came from a highly competitive district. Only once in my 22 years in Congress did a majority of the voters in my district ever vote for the Democratic presidential nominee, in the LBJ landslide of 1964. What that meant was that as a Democrat, I always had to appeal to a significant number of Republican voters, despite wave elections like 2006 and 2010.
State gerrymandering of districts has made fewer and fewer seats competitive, allowing members during primaries and general elections to appeal to the base of their parties. Nonpartisan redistricting could help produce more moderate representatives who would have to build support among both Democrats and Republicans to win elections and would be more willing to reach across the aisle when they get to Washington.
This brings me to one other question: How can we encourage more of our brightest students to choose careers in politics and public service? Among the activities of my Brademas Center for the Study of Congress at New York University has been a summer congressional internship program. Every summer for the last five years, we have sent down eight undergraduate and graduate students from NYU to work on Capitol Hill in the offices of senators and representatives. We offer stipends to cover the cost of living in Washington for the summer and we organize weekly luncheons and dinners with guest speakers to engage the students. The interns do everything from answering phones to undertaking original policy research. They interact daily with members of Congress and congressional staffers. In September the students present papers based on some aspect of their time on the Hill.
I can report to you that the feedback from students has been overwhelmingly positive. Every year I put the question to them: Would any of you consider returning to Washington to work on Capitol Hill or even to run for Congress? Every one of last year's class indicated that they would seriously become congressional staffers, with even two suggesting they are strongly considering running for elected office. Indeed, several of the alumni from our internship program are now working in the executive and legislative branches.
So I would say the country needs more programs like the one the Brademas Center has organized in order to encourage careers in public service.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe that politics is a noble profession. The men and women who serve in Congress—while we may strongly disagree with them on some of the policies they pursue, the majority of them are there because they genuinely believe the work they do will make this country better for their constituents and all Americans. They and their staffers do not live lavish lifestyles, and they often spend 12- to 14-hour days working on the people's business.
But as I have suggested, there are ways to improve civility, which in turn should advance cooperation and consensus on Capitol Hill. As America serves as a model and a light to those countries still struggling for democracy, particularly during this Arab Spring, we owe it to them to show how ideas and policies can be civilly debated and, once adopted by a majority of the democratically elected representatives of the people, respected as the laws of the land.
Now for a man who truly embodies civility and the ethics of public service, Mickey Edwards. As we say in the House, Mr. Speaker, I yield to the gentleman from Oklahoma.
JOANNE MYERS: John, before we turn it over to Mickey, I just want to say that if politics is a noble profession, you are nobility. Thank you very much for your comments.
MICKEY EDWARDS: I thank the gentleman from Indiana.
John gave a list of things we need. I think the thing we need is more John Brademases. It's true that the times in the past were not always exactly as we might have wished them, but it was a different time. John is a liberal Democrat. I was the national chairman of the American Conservative Union and I was one of the three founders of the Heritage Foundation, and I admire John like crazy. When he put together his Brademas Center, he asked me to be on the advisory board. We have great admiration and respect for each other, because we don't walk around wearing either an R or a D emblazoned into our foreheads. I'm going to refer back to that in a minute.
A couple of observations I want to make:
We seem to believe that we live in a political system in which dominance by two rival political parties is the norm; it's just the way it has always been—the sun comes up in the morning and we have political parties, we have the Republicans and the Democrats to choose between.
Actually, that's not true. The closed party primary system we have now is a relic of the Progressive Movement in the late 1890s, early 1900s. It's not a part of our political constitutional system. Founders James Madison and George Washington both warned against the creation of what we now have as modern political parties. I want to come back to that in just a second.
But just a historical note. As John said, there was a time, whether it was Vietnam or other periods like that, when in the streets of the United States there was a great deal of animosity and anger, and there were some people in the Congress who got caught up in that. But even at that time, even in that time when what was happening out in the streets and civil rights and war and other things divided people on great issues, almost every single nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, whether it was the Douglases or the Frankfurters or the Brandeises, were getting confirmed almost unanimously, bipartisan, both parties. Medicare, Medicaid, most of the great social reform issues were getting passed by overwhelming numbers of people in both political parties. The reason for that was that at that time people understood that when they stepped across the aisle after taking the oath of office—they held up their hands and they were sworn in as members of Congress—they were no longer partisans waging a political battle, but they were members of Congress, the legislative branch of government—as John says, the branch of government that has almost all power.
One of the stories that I like to tell—there is a columnist named Dana Milbank for The Washington Post, who wrote a column when George W. Bush was president. The president was getting ready to go overseas on a mission. As Milbank put it, the president was getting ready to step out of his role as head of government to function for the next week or so in his other role as head of state.
I was teaching at Princeton at the time. I asked my students, "What jumps out at you about this, that instead of his role as head of government, he's going to act in his role as head of state?"
Of course, the answers were predictable:
"Well, he's going to be dealing with basing rights."
"He's going to be dealing with flyovers."
"He's going to be dealing with trade agreements."
I said, "No. The president is not the head of government. We don't have a head of government. This is not Peru. We have three separate, independent, equal branches of government."
Almost every single major power that ever belonged to any king, dictator, or emperor was left in the hands of the people through their representatives—war power, spending power, taxing power, program creations—all of them in Congress. That's why this issue of being able to have legislative bodies that can work together instead of just brawling with each other is fundamental to our ability to keep our society going.
When Benjamin Franklin was asked—everybody thinks this is apocryphal, but it's not—"What kind of government have you given us?" when they came out of Constitution Hall, he said, "A republic, madam, if you can keep it."
I wrote a column once that said that that was apocryphal, and the expert on Benjamin Franklin, Walter Isaacson, who is my boss, said, "No. It happened. Here's when and here's where," and so forth.
He said, "A republic, if you can keep it."
When Abraham Lincoln was speaking at Gettysburg and he was describing why we were in a civil war, he said, "It's a test of whether or not a nation so conceived could long endure."
Whether or not it could long endure is whether or not we continue to see ourselves primarily as Americans in a common nation with a common cause and common goals or as separate rival clubs unable to talk to each other.
John used the word "consensus." Consensus is not possible. There are 300 million of us, with different backgrounds, different experiences. The problem is, when consensus is not possible, compromise becomes indispensable. You have to be able to compromise. When we have drawn the lines based on our party identities, compromise becomes impossible.
I should throw in here—this is a little bit of a plug—I have an article coming out in The Atlantic in the July-August issue, which comes out in about two weeks. I didn't write the title; I just wrote the article. The editors of The Atlantic wrote the title, but I like it. It's "How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans." That's something worth considering.
John mentioned some of the problems. I'll just mention a couple of others.
When John and I were there, part of the reason we were able to compromise and get along and be friends had to do with who we are, but some of it was that that was a different time. It was a different environment. It was before Glenn Beck. It was before Rush Limbaugh. It was before Keith Olbermann. It was before Roger Ailes. It was when people who were in the media business, television and radio, thought that they had higher obligations than simply pursuing the making of money, whatever that took.
There was an article, I think it was in the The New York Times, last week quoting Lawrence O'Donnell, who now has a primetime show, in which he talked about how he is having to readjust his thinking in order to fit the model that they have on MSNBC, the model being that it has to be nasty; it has to be confrontational.
I once said—this is not very nice, and I'm trying to give you the impression that I'm a civil guy—I suggested once that we should take Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann and drop them off the same bridge at the same time. That's probably not the best approach.
So part of it is the role that the media has played. Part of it is the way that the Congress has adjusted its schedule so that members are no longer there and able to get to know each other, as John and I got to know each other. Part of it is the raising of money, which takes part of the time that you would use to get to know each other. In fact, getting money often requires you to be in line with somebody who has a very strong agenda that they want to pursue and which will brook no disagreement.
To get to your questions and answers, let me just make a few suggestions of my own.
First of all, I agree completely with John about redistricting. What we have now is a war between two private clubs. The Republicans and Democrats are not in the Constitution. They are not part of our system. They are two private clubs to which we have surrendered the power to govern elections. Let me give you a couple of examples.
Congressional district lines are drawn by whichever party controls the majority in a state legislature. I don't know how many of you have been to Oklahoma. It's a big state. Every bit of New England fits inside of Oklahoma. I had a congressional district that was in the middle of the state, completely urban. Oklahoma City's population is the same size as Boston's. I'm a city dude. I really am. I won a district that had been held by Democrats since 1928. My district was 75 percent Democrat. I won it, and I won it again. And it just drove the Democrats crazy. They controlled our state legislature at that time by a margin of about nine to one, and so they redrew the congressional district lines, taking me from the center of the state all the way up to Kansas, which is a long way, and then halfway over to Arkansas. A big, upside-down L is the way they gerrymandered my district. They did this to put every Republican they could find in Oklahoma into my district and take them all out of the other districts so they would be safer for Democrats.
For years, I kept saying, "Look what they did to me. Poor me." But they didn't do it to me at all. There is a provision in the Constitution that everybody kind of overlooks that says that every single senator and representative has to be an inhabitant of the state from which they are elected. The purpose is that this powerful group that makes all the laws is going to be made up of people who are your neighbors, that your member of the Senate or of the House knows you, knows your problems, knows your concerns. That's self-rule. That's how we became citizens, not subjects. We would be selected by our neighbors.
You know what? Instead of a district like Boston, I had a district that was full of wheat farmers and cattle ranchers and wonderful people. I knew them and I loved them, and I knew nothing about agricultural issues. I didn't care about agricultural issues. I didn't want to know anything about agricultural issues. They were no longer represented by somebody who could speak for them adequately, accurately, and smartly in Congress. That was because we allow the political parties to decide what our congressional district lines are going to be like.
So I also, John, am in favor of nonpartisan redistricting commissions. Thirteen states now have something like that, in one form or another. But there are others.
The state of Delaware has about a million people. In the primaries in the midterms last time, if you had taken a poll in the state of Delaware, an overwhelming majority would have supported Mike Castle for his seat in the U.S. Senate. Instead, he had to go through a party primary in which, out of the 1 million people in Delaware, only 30,000 voted for a woman named Christine O'Donnell, and Mike Castle could no longer be on the ballot in November.
In Utah, which has 3 million people, 3,500 went to a convention and chose Mike Lee instead of Senator Robert Bennett, who was very popular in the state, for a Senate seat.
The city and state governments have surrendered control over the election process to two private clubs.
A long time ago, the state of Louisiana, where you don't often look for progressive movement, said, "We're not going to do that. We're going to have primaries that are open to everybody. Everybody who wants to run for governor, Congress, or whatever is on the same ballot, and everybody who wants to vote in that race can vote in that same race."
Washington State adopted that in 2006. California adopted it in the last midterm elections, in 2010.
The idea of taking away from parties the right to tell us who can be on the ballot in November, who we can choose between, is an absolutely essential reform to putting the people back in control and getting away from this system that always elects more and more partisan zealots, because you have to go through this narrow party primary fight.
The third thing—I don't know how John will feel about this—I took the oath of office, stepped across this magic line, and instead of a Republican candidate, I became a member of the lawmaking branch of the U.S. government. I was in a group of fairly well-known people. I was the least known among them. Al Gore was in that class, Dick Gephardt, Dan Quayle. We had a good group of people. We were all there together. We were all equal. We were all members of the new class and members of Congress.
That lasted about 30 seconds. Then we divided into two rival clubs to decide who would be speaker, what the rules would be, how many people could serve on what committee. And it has continued on that basis. You really don't have a U.S. House of Representatives. You have two rival U.S. Houses of Representatives occupying the same space.
I was on the very illustriously named Committee on Committees. Wait a minute. I'll show off more: I was on the Executive Committee of the Committee on Committees. What we did was, we chose who got to serve on what committee. How did the leadership do that? I was chairman of the Republican Policy Committee. How did the leadership do that? You would go and you would say, "If you want a seat on Ways and Means, here are the issues that are fundamental to our party position. You can get that seat if you promise to be true to the party position."
Why do we let party leaders, club leaders, decide who is going to serve on what committees? If the group of you—I have no idea who is a Republican or a Democrat in here—if you decided you were going to get together to do something for the Carnegie Council, you would sit and have a conversation, and I guarantee you, you wouldn't decide, "Okay, Republicans, sit over there; Democrats, sit over there." You wouldn't do that in most places where we decide things important in this country. But we allow that to happen in Congress.
Why do we let party leaders do that? There are so many other ways—strictly by seniority, regardless of party, by a drawing. There are lots of ways to choose who serves on what committee, all of them elected by the same number of people.
So what we need to do fundamentally, if we are going to change the way our parties have become locked in this bitter warfare against each other because of a system in which—I'll pick up on something John said that was accurate. As the chairman of his subcommittee, as he said, he did not need to ask the minority ranking member who he wanted to have testify. John is the kind of person that did ask him. Some chairmen don't ask them. Why do we allow whoever happens to be the most senior member of a committee to decide who gets to testify, who we'll listen to, what advice we'll get? I'm advocating strongly that we break that.
John mentioned what he does now, so I'll just end up with this so we can open it up for questions about how to proceed. After I left Congress, I taught at Harvard for 11 years and then I taught at Princeton. Now I'm a vice president of the Aspen Institute. I run a program that brings together—I'm the entire admissions committee; I have a great job—I select every year 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans from throughout the United States who hold public office, elective office, and bring them together into a fellowship. There are now—one is in the Senate, two are governors, five are in the U.S. House, the attorneys general of a lot of our different states, lieutenant governors of a lot of our states, the mayors of Atlanta, Charlotte, San Antonio, and Baltimore are all part of my program.
What we do is—this is an Aspen Institute thing—we don't talk about Iraq and we don't talk about health care; we talk about Plato, Aristotle, Confucius, Locke, Amartya Sen, and Virginia Woolf. We talk about principles and ideas, about what binds us together as believers in democracy, not as members of club A or club B. Then we also take them to China, India, Egypt, and Israel to meet with government leaders and really understand the issues that are arising in those areas. It's about a new kind of politics. It's a politics that is not based in party.
I'll end with this. It's one of the great, amazing things to me. I have chosen all of these people. The very first one we ever chose, seven years ago, was Gabby Giffords. Every one of you knows people who are involved in this program. One of the things that has surprised me now, after these years—it's a table like this. There will be 24 people sitting around having conversations about all of these ideas. I can't remember who is a Republican and who is a Democrat. I can't remember. When you strip away the party loyalty and talk about values, principles, and ideals, they are all the same. They are all the same. They are all just Americans.
So that's one of the changes we need to make to get to the kind of a system that was personified by people like John Brademas.
JOANNE MYERS: Thank you very much, Mickey, for those very wise and wonderful words.