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Bridging the Partisan DivideQ & A with Senator Warren Rudman '60

interviewed by jeri zedar

The year Father Robert Drinan left the House of Representatives, Republican Warren Rudman ’60 began his career as senator from New Hampshire, serving two terms from 1980 to 1993. Admired and respected on both sides of the aisle, Rudman was chairman of President Clinton’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and co-chair of the US Commission on National Security/21st Century. He is a founder of The Concord Coalition, a non-partisan group that educates the public about federal deficits and entitlement programs. Rudman is currently a partner in the international law firm of Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison. Rudman was on campus this spring to moderate the panel, “Achieving Bipartisanship: The Challenge for National Leadership,” which featured political leaders John Kerry ’76, Edward Markey ’72, Bobby Scott ’73, Michael Capuano’77, Paul Hodes ’78, and Stephen Lynch ’91.


Q: What do you know about Father Drinan’s views on bipartisanship?

A: He was a person who believed that you ought to listen to the views of others. But even more importantly, he is one who would not just give lip service to somebody else’s views. He would take their views seriously. I think that Father Drinan, if you were to ask him today, would probably bemoan the lack of bipartisanship that exists.

Q: What is bipartisanship?

A: It’s the ability for people who have strongly held views to move toward compromise to get a solution that is better than the status quo, without sacrificing one’s principles.

Q: What mechanisms need to be in place for bipartisanship to happen?

A: Well, the mechanisms are in place, they just aren’t working anymore. There was a time in the Congress where you served on committees with people of the other party and you got to know them very well and you worked on legislation together and you could get things done. Much of that has broken down. The nastiness of political campaigns, the power of some of the talk radio and television shows—they have raised the level of animus between people to the point that it becomes more and more difficult to work across the aisle.

Q: Are there certain classes of issues that are more amenable to bipartisan treatment?

A: Most issues are amenable. Tax increases versus tax cuts, the size of appropriations, the size of the military, environmental laws—all of those tend to grow incrementally. You never tend to get it all done at the beginning, so you try to take it step by step. It takes time. It takes bipartisan work

.Q: How much is the lack of bipartisanship today the result of the American people either not wanting it or not understanding it?

A: I think the American people probably want more bipartisanship. They may not express it that way. They keep saying why are you always fighting about everything in Congress and Washington? Why can’t you get together and get along?

Q: Some analysts have said that a positive aspect of the two-party system is that it prevents America from being pulled to extremes…

A: That has been true.

Q: …but these days, the parties and the country seem so polarized. How can we have bipartisanship today?

A: It’s going to be hard for awhile. I think it’s going to take some time. We’re going through another one of the times in our history that’s very difficult politically with a lot of difficult problems to solve, a lot of people with hard feelings about elections that have taken place in the last few years. But, eventually, these problems have to be solved and, eventually, these parties will come together and solve them. They don’t have a choice. You can’t let certain problems go unsolved any more than you can let a fire rage out of control in a downtown and let it burn the town down.

Q: You have a lot of optimism.

A: I do. I’m kind of a history buff. I’ve looked at the history of this country and we’ve come through all kinds of crises over a long period of time, terrible crises, like the Civil War, and we’ve always managed to come out the other side better than when we started. So, yes, I’m optimistic.

Q: So you don’t think this is a more dire time than others?

A: I think it’s as dire but no more dire. And I think the solutions require leadership at all levels.

Q: When you have a two-party system and both the legislature and executive branch go in one direction, how do you have bipartisanship?

A: There are two ways to look at that. One way is to say if the White House and both houses of Congress are controlled by the same party, they’re either going to do well, or the electorate is really going to erupt at them. And that’s exactly what just happened last November. You get a Republican House, a Republican Senate, Republican President, people are very unhappy with Katrina, Iraq, people are unhappy with the corruption in Washington, the ethics in Washington, and they said, throw the bums out.

This election was very much a national election.Tip O’Neill was fond of saying all elections are local. Not really. This year was a national election, certainly around the country where a lot of very good office holders got swept out because they were Republicans. That happened in 1994; it happened to the Democrats in the House. My view is you’re going to get what the people of this country want or you’re going to have changes in the election results.

There are some people who say, I prefer a split government because, therefore, there’s a check and balance between the White House and the Congress. Well, I’m not sure I agree with that. I would rather have a party accountable to the electorate.

Q: Unlike in the 1960s, young people today are not hearing people in public life speaking in idealistic and inspiring ways. Do you have any comments on that?

A: Plenty of people around the country are speaking passionately about important things, but they don’t get heard. Plenty of people are speaking in Congress today, every day, passionately about important issues, and they don’t get heard. I think that, with patience, it will happen.