Mr. President: Bring us together … Yes, you can

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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Dear Mr. President:

What is the best strategy for the fall congressional campaign?

I urge you to reject the conventional-wisdom advice to wage a partisan campaign, attacking the “just say no” Republicans and blaming a lot of our problems on the prior administration.

Rather, I urge you to return to your roots — to the theme that led my own oldest son to support your candidacy way before you announced it.

You articulated that theme in your 2004 Democratic National Convention keynote speech:

“The pundits like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states. … But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an ‘awesome God’ in the blue states, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the red states. We coach Little League in the blue states and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the red states. … We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.”

Then, just four years and six months later, you said in your inaugural address:

“On this day, we come to proclaim an end to the petty grievances and false promises, the recriminations and worn-out dogmas that for too long have strangled our politics.”

Especially, I urge you to re-read the comment made by the 1968 Republican president-elect, Richard M. Nixon, one day after his election:

“I saw many signs in this campaign. Some of them were not friendly. But the one that touched me the most was — a teenager held that sign — ‘Bring Us Together.’ And that will be the great objective of this administration at the outset, to bring American people together.”

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long after uttering them that Nixon defaulted to his partisan instincts and advisers and ignored these words.

I have been actively involved in politics since that year of 1968 — a year when I couldn’t imagine America ever being divided more bitterly between left and right. Yet I have never seen a higher level of partisanship, bitterness and vitriol between the two parties in Washington than that which exists today.

Last year a conservative Republican and evangelical Christian, Ronald DeMoss, approached me, a liberal Democrat, to join him in “the Civility Project.” A couple months ago, we sent out personally addressed letters to 535 members of Congress and 50 governors asking all of them to sign a civility pledge — found at www.civilityproject.org — asking nothing more than to vow to engage in respectful debate.

As of a few weeks or so ago, only one member had signed: Rep. Frank Wolf (R) of Northern Virginia.

Mr. President: I think you can prove that most of the American people want their politicians to sign this pledge by signing it yourself and challenging all Democratic and Republican candidates to do likewise. You can and should embrace the words of Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) this past Sunday on CNN: “If we keep yelling at each other … we will go nowhere together.”

Your campaign slogan should be: “It’s time to get back into the solutions business.”

And to do so, you should invite to the White House, immediately after Labor Day, center-left and center-right members of Congress committed to finding consensus solutions on three issues: jobs, energy independence and immigration reform.

You should invite thoughtful conservative Republicans who have a history of working with Democrats to find solutions, such as Sens. Graham (who I don’t believe really will want to amend the 14th Amendment to bar citizenship of children of illegal aliens); John McCain (Ariz.), Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.); and such House Republicans as Wolf, Mike Castle (Del.), Chris Smith (N.J.) and Connie Mack (Fla.).

You can find good conservative ideas and good liberal ideas, both progressive and pro-business and pro-market, which would bring centrist first steps to these three crucial problems, with a chance to pass legislation in all three areas before November.

Yes, you can.

If you do, I believe it is both the right politics and, most of all, right for the country.

Mr. Davis is the founder of the Washington D.C. law firm, Lanny J. Davis & Associates, which specializes in litigation, legal crisis management, and legislative and public policy strategies. He served as Special Counsel to President Clinton in 1996-98 and as a member of President Bush’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  He is the author of “Scandal:  How ‘Gotcha’ Politics Is Destroying America” (Palgrave MacMillan, 2006).