Published November 27, 2000
Published December 18, 2000
Distributed by Copley News Service
To both President-elect George Bush and Vice President Al Gore, I offer Winston Churchill’s profound and comforting thought that “Victory is never final, defeat is never fatal, it’s courage that counts.” Courage, civility, magnanimity, all were hallmarks of Gore’s world-class concession speech. He put love of country above personal ambition while in his heart believing he won the election. He took the vital first step in helping to restore civic virtue to its paramount place above partisan politics.
President-elect Bush immediately picked up the torch, showing why he won the reputation in Texas of being a uniter, someone who can bridge party lines to build consensus among legislators and within the public at large. No skill is more important after the rancor of recent weeks. Bush is the right man at the right time in history along with Dick Cheney and Colin Powell to help unite our country, heal wounds and lead America toward racial reconciliation.
That need is critical. The American economy is being dragged down by high tax rates, tight money and excessive regulations. Even more important is the issue of the racial divide in our country, which is being exacerbated by shrill voices on both sides. We should be heartened by Bush’s call “to find common ground and build consensus to make America a beacon of opportunity in the 21st century.” Abraham Lincoln’s response to a Union soldier at Gettysburg who asked him after his address why he showed no rancor or anger toward his Confederate enemies comes to mind: “Do I not destroy my enemy by making him my friend?”
There is no better example of this spirit in the 20th century than Nelson Mandela. Colin Powell in a speech five years ago at Howard University, reminded us that Mandela, the prisoner, became South Africa’s president while F.W. DeClerk, his jailer, became his vice president.
The Party of Lincoln must go even further and offer policies, programs and judicial procedures that guarantee equality of opportunity, social justice, electoral and ballot reform along with the guarantee that this Republican White House and Congress will strictly enforce our civil rights laws to protect every American.
If we are to have a period of reconciliation and unity in America, everyone on both sides of the aisle must overcome what will be an enormous temptation to undermine bipartisan cooperation surreptitiously and then blame its failure on the other party. It is not conducive of bipartisan cooperation for one side unilaterally to delineate the center of the political spectrum as consisting of fringe issues and then make their enactment a precondition of bipartisanship.
If we truly want to transcend party lines, “equality of opportunity” should be given meaning for each and every American. This means removing every barrier in law and in the regulatory code that discriminates against work, saving, investment, home ownership and access to credit and capital for everyone, especially those in urban or rural America who have been left behind. The Digital Age can be the golden age of entrepreneurship, allowing men and women, young and old, black, white and brown, to take their best shot at the American dream. It’s no accident that the high-tech sector has witnessed the strongest bipartisan consensus on issues ranging from immigration to Internet taxation, and it gives us a marvelous chance to prove why freedom and growth and equal opportunity are the great equalizers in a diverse society.
At Empower America, where I proudly serve as co-director with Bill Bennett and Jeane Kirkpatrick, we use the much-abused notion of “empowerment” to describe public policies that not only maximize freedom but promote individual initiative and affirmative efforts to enhance people’s chances of improving their lives. Empowerment initiatives such as greater choice and parental involvement in schools, personal ownership and control of Social Security retirement accounts, and fundamental tax reform that stops the endless manipulation of the tax laws by special interests make a real difference in our daily lives. They are also the kinds of ideas that can bring us together as a nation if we have bold leadership that transcends party.
In Isaiah, chapter six, the prophet hears the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And he answers, “Here am I; send me.” In this holy season, we pray for our new president as he answers the call and prepares to fulfill his destiny as president of all Americans, each unique and individually sovereign yet united in common purpose.
Jack Kemp is co-director of Empower America and Distinguished Fellow of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
Copyright © 2000 Copley News Service