For the half-century I have been a newspaperman, I have never seen the anger and hate aimed toward the Democrat and Republican candidates running for president this year. It was the first time I ever heard people say they would leave the country if their candidate didn't win. Bush was attacked as an idiot, Kerry as a liberal, phony war hero.
So I was happy that the four presidents – two Democrats, two Republicans -- who came to Little Rock to open the Clinton Library last week tried in their speeches to bring us together again. I was surprised that the crowd of Democrats at the ceremony listened closely to the Republican speakers. One sitting by me – a lifetime Democrat -- said that the only reason people were standing and cheering the two Bushes was to shake off the cold and rain, but he was clapping when he said it.
Jimmy Carter said that at the end of a "difficult political year, it is valuable for the world to see two Democrat and two Republican presidents assembled together all honoring the great nation that has permitted us to serve."
Eighty-year old George H.W. Bush, who Bill Clinton prevented from winning a second term, praised Clinton over and over again. "One of the great blessings is the way one-time political adversaries have the tendency to become friends, and I feel such is certainly the case between President Clinton and me," Bush said.
His son, President George W. Bush, was next, and he praised Clinton's "brilliance, mastery of detail, persuasive power and his persistence." Then the president complimented Clinton for having "a deep empathy for the poor and the powerless." He called Clinton "a tireless champion of peace in the Middle East."
That comment began to fit when Clinton began to speak, thanking several Israeli officials for coming to the opening of the library and saying that his biggest disappointment as president was that he failed to bring peace between Israel and Palestine. But, he said, "There was one whole year when for the first time in the history of the state of Israel not one person died of terrorist attacks when the Palestinians began to believe they could have a shared future." Then Clinton said he had prayed that peace would permanently "cross over into the promised land of Middle East peace."
I began to think that maybe Bush and/or Clinton were telling us something. In Clinton's book, "My Life," he writes that on Dec. 19, 2000, Bush, who had just been elected, came to the White House to see him, and Bush asked Clinton what were the biggest security problems he would face when he was sworn in.
Osama bin Laden was the No. 1 security problem and No. 2 was the fighting between Israel and Palestine. For months, Clinton had been in the midst of dealing with Israel and Palestine, bringing Yasser Arafat of Palestine and Ehud Barak of Israel to the United States to meet. Barak's cabinet finally agreed to allow Palestine to take over 97 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza – a historic offer. But Arafat stalled and began making other demands. Fighting soon began again and has continued for the last four years.
After the speeches, the special guests had lunch in a large white tent, and during the meal, according to a New York Times story, Bush continued to compliment Clinton, saying that Clinton's "public service came early, and his service to America has not ended."
Does that indicate that President Bush is considering appointing Clinton to go to the Middle East to try again to bring peace? If Bush does, it will certainly help to heal some wounds that many have suffered during this election.
Our country has to have bipartisanship for it to be the America it is supposed to be. And not just in the presidency but in the House and Senate and our state governments.
Clinton put it very well in his speech, saying it bothered him when the country gets as divided as it did this year. "We have to spend our lives trying to build a global community and an American community of shared responsibilities, shared values, shared benefits. I said to a friend of mine ... before the election hearing all these terrible things [about the candidates]. I said, ‘You know, am I the only person in the entire United States of America who likes both George Bush and John Kerry, who believes they're both good people, who believes they both love our country and they just see the world differently?'
"What should our shared values be? Everybody counts. Everybody deserves a chance. Everybody has got a responsibility to fulfill. We all do better when we work together. Our differences do matter, but our common humanity matters more.”