After the Negative Campaigns, Sage Advice
By David S. Broder
Tuesday, November 7, 2006; A21
A couple of things have turned up that may help to clear your mind and
revive your spirit after the nastiness of this political campaign:
Goodness knows, we need relief after the barrage of negative ads and
insistent phone calls that candidates and political parties unleashed on
us. I know that the political consultants are convinced that "going
negative" is the only way to move the vote and win an election. But at
some point you wish that the grown-ups in this country -- those who
don't see elections as a profit-making business -- would remind these
talented character assassins of the damage they are doing to the system
of representative government that has served this nation so well.
recently received from former senator George McGovern, telling me that
he is forming a bipartisan "Council of Elders," wise men and women who
will occasionally consult informally with each other and be available,
individually, to counsel people making public policy.
The 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, still writing and speaking at
age 84, points out that America has never developed a habit or mechanism
for keeping its most experienced figures engaged even in advisory roles.
His council is an informal stab in that direction.
Among others, McGovern has enlisted such liberals as historian Arthur
Schlesinger Jr.; former interior secretary Stewart Udall; journalists
Lewis Lapham and Gloria Steinem; Carrie Lee Nelson, the outspoken and
humorous widow of former senator Gaylord Nelson; and former senators Tom
Eagleton and John Culver. Balancing them are several notable
Republicans, including former Senate majority leader Howard Baker,
former majority whip Alan Simpson and Rep. Henry Hyde.
The group is flexible in its approach and still very much expanding in
membership, with McGovern serving as a contact point at
McGoverncenter@dwu.edu <mailto:McGoverncenter@dwu.edu> .
McGovern's enterprise reminds me of something Lamar Alexander, soon to
be Tennessee's senior senator, told me he had learned many years ago
from his apprenticeship under Bryce Harlow, the powerful White House
legislative and political adviser in the 1960s and '70s. Harlow taught
Alexander and others that it is a wise policy to have at least one old
geezer on the White House staff, someone not entirely dependent on the
president for his power or position, someone who can speak with utter
frankness without fear of the consequences.
That's excellent advice, and my one regret is that my old colleague Mary
McGrory, who certainly would have qualified for McGovern's council of
elders, did not live long enough to serve. But some of Mary's finest
work is finally between hard covers in "The Best of Mary McGrory,"
published by Andrews McMeel and selected and edited, with great love, by
Phil Gailey, a dear friend of Mary's from the old Washington Star who is
now at the St. Petersburg Times.
In one column Gailey selected from The Post, where Mary moved after the
demise of the Star, she wrote about the era that was then just beginning
but is now nearing its end. "Those who yearn for healing and unity in
Washington," she wrote, "had better look to the National Zoo. A pair of
panda bears have arrived from China, and they'll bring people together
because they provide amusement and delight, something that is not
anticipated from a Cheney-Bush administration."
Earlier, writing about the funeral of Richard Nixon, she observed that
"he was smart but got something big wrong: He thought politics was war
and that everything is justified. And what we can learn from this week
is how much Americans want to love their presidents -- and they will in
life as well as in death, if they are given half a chance."
I mourn the death of a great reporter and a good friend and colleague,
Helen Dewar, who gave Post readers definitive coverage of Virginia
politics and the Senate over the past decades. She dominated those beats
without ever raising her voice or flaunting her knowledge, and she
managed to do everything -- including fight the breast cancer that
killed her -- with immense dignity and good humor.