- Bearing Drift - https://bearingdrift.com -

Rubin Implores, ‘Please, George Bush and Barack Obama. Help Protect Our Democracy’

President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama meet in the Oval Office of the White House Monday, Nov. 10, 2008. White House photo by Eric Draper

“Respect for its authority, compliance with its laws, acquiescence in its measures, are duties enjoined by the fundamental maxims of true liberty.” -George Washington, first President of the United States

A few years back I posted a photo of former First Lady Michelle Obama and former President George W. Bush [1] as she greeted him with a hug at the 2016 opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. (see photo at the link).

I was admonished by a Republican colleague and told I should take it down. “Why?” I asked. I liked that it showed that former presidents in opposing political parties and their families were friends after they left the White House and, at a time when politics was especially vitriolic, it was a refreshing show of civility and kindness. I left it up; he fumed. It was, I believe, the beginning of the intense coarsening of politics where there is no longer respect for the opinions of those we disagree with, no matter which side of the aisle they reside.

Fast forward six years and things have only gotten worse. Look at January 6, 2021, when Republicans violently attacked and damaged the U.S. Capitol, resulting in deaths, injuring over 100 police officers, and calling for their own vice president’s hanging at gallows hastily constructed on the lawn.

Where do we go from here? Is there any way at all to make peace with our fellow Americans? Writer Jennifer Rubin thinks bipartisanship could be a big player in this and has offered what I consider an excellent suggestion. Hitting the nail squarely on the head, she wrote [2]:

Prior to Jimmy Carter, presidents generally retired from public life after their tenure ended (with a few exceptions). They did so with the understanding — first realized by George Washington — that there must be a single chief executive at a time, and that relinquishing power and attention was an essential part of the peaceful transfer of power.

Current former presidents do not have the luxury of such thinking. Given the rise of authoritarianism and bigotry in American politics, they should take a more active role in rejecting such extremism. Two former presidents — Barack Obama and George W. Bush — are particularly capable of taking on this task.

Ms. Rubin is correct. To back up her pragmatism, she looked to George Washington. Yes, that George Washington … first president of the United States, noting that, in his farewell address when leaving the White House, he urged his countrymen [3] to think of national unity ‘as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.’ ”

Gee. I think we have a good idea how he would have felt about the violence of January 6.

Arrival of President-elect Barack Obama and wife, Michelle Obama to the South Lawn

She continued, “His farewell address reflected the Founders’ ongoing concern for the destructive force of factions and power-hungry men who would manipulate voters to seize power. Washington understood that if divisions hardened, the temptation to reject a lawfully elected government would intensify” (emphasis added).

Because of comments they have made the past few years, both former Presidents understand the threat to our democracy and the danger of extremists who have emerged from the shadows.

So what is Ms. Rubin’s plan for the presidents? A bipartisan road trip because who doesn’t like a road trip? The two affable still-mixing-it-up former presidents on opposite sides of the political aisle could reach out to a wider audience and urge Americans “to reject crazy conspiracy theories, invitations to violence, assaults on the sanctity of elections and efforts to undermine democratic values? They could underscore the urgency of the moment, the need to prioritize country over party, and the value of honest and civil discourse.”

Amen. They could be the political superheroes of our time – the Justice League of Politics – or JLP for short. Ms. Rubin wraps it up [2] with a final point and an ask:

As we face the prospect of political devastation, the Obama-Bush duo could deliver a compelling defense of democracy as they model good civic conduct, showing that fundamental love of country and embrace of democracy doesn’t require ideological agreement.

How about it, Presidents Obama and Bush?

We eagerly await their response….

Former President George W. Bush: “There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.”

Former President Barack Obama: “Democracy was never meant to be transactional — you give me your vote; I make everything better. It requires an active and informed citizenry. So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability. To embrace your own responsibility as citizens. To make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.”