Leaving party hats at the door

Reflections on occasions where political leaders from both sides of the aisle interacted amicably and demonstrated mutual respect

I had the opportunity to participate recently in two extraordinary events that resoundingly reinforced the notion that the spirit of collaboration and bipartisanship among the two major parties is alive and well. Although both events were in Washington, D.C., I believe some of the learnings and insights I experienced are germane to state and local leaders in the U.S. also.

Celebrating the founding of the Bipartisan Policy Center

The first occasion was a dinner commemorating the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Bipartisan Policy Center. As you may know, the Center was founded by four former Senate Majority Leaders, two Republican and two Democrat, to drive bipartisan approaches to the biggest, toughest and most challenging issues facing the country. Last year, I had the good fortune of serving on their Federal Deficit Commission, which reached unanimity on a plan that could fix our debt issue.

The anniversary dinner honored two national leaders who are regarded as having taken a collaborative approach to problem solving across the aisle: former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, and former U.S. Senator Howard Baker – both Republicans. It was gratifying to see the number of Democratic leaders that came to the dinner and joined the podium to recognize the achievements of these two leaders. Speakers included Democratic Vice President Biden, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, and we were also treated to a video from former President Clinton, who was unable to be there. It was pleasing see the level of respect shown to these individuals and the extent to which leaders from both parties enjoyed an evening together.

Commemorating the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress

Only days after that event, I had the opportunity to attend a dinner commemorating the 45th anniversary of the founding of the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. My friend, Ambassador David Abshire, who had founded the Center, was there and played an active role. David Gergen, who I have always viewed as taking a very well thought and balanced approach to public policy, served as the moderator. The distinguished guest recognized at the dinner was U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

I thought it was noteworthy that the Eisenhower Award, named for our former Republican President and given out by his granddaughter, Susan, was being awarded to a longtime Democratic Party leader. Panetta is a former Congressman, former White House Chief of Staff, former Head of the Office and Management and Budget, and former Director of the CIA. In my estimation, that makes him one of the most accomplished public servants of my generation.

As I reflect on both extraordinary evenings, I believe there may be a few learnings for all of us. We should pause and take time to celebrate our successes and celebrate the leaders that came before us – men and women from both major parties. We should find more occasions to get leaders from both sides of the aisle together in social settings. And when we do so, we should all leave our party hats at the door. I think these observations are every bit as are applicable to our state capitals as they are to Washington D.C.

As always, I look forward to any comments or feedback.

Mr. Robert N. Campbell III is Vice Chairman, Principal, Deloitte LLP and is the U.S. State Government Leader, based in Austin, TX

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