The Republican Party occupies more real estate inside the federal government and state houses across the country today than at any other point in the last 100 years. This was largely accomplished because the party offered an attainable vision for the country that was predicated on championing equality of opportunity for each and every American. With great power comes great responsibility, and if they are going to deliver on this agenda which includes tax reform, accessibility to affordable health care and infrastructure development, leaders in Congress and President Trump will be wise to seek as much collaboration as possible to ensure success.
None of the aforementioned policy goals are easy. They require sustained focus, long term planning, and likely years of investment and legislative tinkering to achieve results. An inherent feature of our democratic republic are swings of legislative power. Couple this with the recent electoral environment that has bred wave elections, and it’s easy to grasp how those who are in power today could find themselves in the minority tomorrow. This lends further credibility to the notion that short term consensus building is a perquisite for longer term progress. Few understand this notion better than former U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with my good friends Joe and Hadassah Lieberman in New York to discuss life after politics. We also reminisced about the life lessons earned from years of public service, our shared Jewish faith and past work in Jerusalem in support of Susan G. Komen, and the seemingly lost art of bringing the left, right and middle together to achieve consensus in policy making. Times have changed.
Joe Lieberman was raised in Connecticut and earned bachelor and law degrees from Yale University. He was first elected to the State Senate in 1970, where he served for a decade. From 1983 to 1988, Joe was State Attorney General prior to serving four terms in the U.S. Senate. During his tenure in Congress, Joe fought in support of legislation in nearly every major area of public policy area including environmental protection, human rights, health care, trade, renewable energy, and tax reform. He held powerful committee chair positions and fought for a muscular and smart foreign policy which has come to serve our military and diplomatic corps well. Despite being selected by Democrats to serve as the party’s nominee for Vice President in 2000, Lieberman’s moderate tendencies and bipartisan efforts with independent minded Senators and presidents of both parties caused consternation among ideological extremists.
Instead of shying away from a fight, Lieberman ran for reelection in Connecticut in 2006 as an Independent, and he won the general election in a landslide over the Democratic nominee who had bested him in a primary only a few months earlier. His victory was an important lesson for present-day partisans on Capitol Hill and regulars on the cable news circuit. It illustrated for Democrats that they needed to be more than a “Party of No” to be taken seriously. For Republicans, it showed that if they wanted to broaden their appeal and lasting change, they couldn’t go it alone.
During his final speech on the Senate floor in 2012, Joe challenged his colleagues to learn from his public service career – to put partisanship aside and work together. “It requires reaching across the aisle and finding partners from the opposite party,” he said. “That is what is desperately needed in Washington now.”
Five years later, little has changed.
Andrew Carnegie believed that “no man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself.” Likewise, no one group of lawmakers or political party can lead the greatest, most culturally diverse and exceptional nation in the world by itself. As we face arduous challenges before us, from fixing a health care system that is too expensive, to reforming an out-of-date tax structure and passing a budget that addresses our aging infrastructure needs –lawmakers in Washington would be well served by looking to Joe Lieberman’s leadership skills. It will allow them to forge consensus and deliver sustainable legislative solutions to the American people.
Nancy Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer charity, has served as U.S. ambassador to Hungary, U.S. chief of protocol, and as a Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control to the U.N.’s World Health Organization. She is now continuing her work as a cancer advocate and global consultant.