Can Republicans and Democrats get along?
If the bipartisan ceremony and discussion that took place at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum on Sept. 22 is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes.
At the event, former Congressman David Dreier ’75, a Republican, presented former Democratic governor Steve Bullock ’88 P’24 with the Dreier Roundtable’s inaugural Civility Award for exemplifying “the measured and thoughtful approach the country needs.” During his two terms as governor of Montana, Bullock worked together with a Republican-majority legislature to address the state’s most challenging issues.
Dreier—who while in Congress served as chairman of the House Rules Committee and pursued civility between the two parties—founded the Roundtable, a public policy program at CMC, “to attract, educate, and promote future leaders in public policy.”
Awardees are recognized for “engaging in spirited debate within the framework of civil and respectful dialogue.”
Even before the event began, it was clear that the prospect of a spirited and civil dialogue resonated with the CMC community, who packed the Ath to hear Jack Pitney, Roy P. Crocker Professor of Politics, moderate a lively conversation between Bullock and Dreier.
“This is very much an ultimate CMC moment,” Pitney said to begin the discussion, which ranged from the future of the two political parties to Dreier and Bullock’s shared CMC roots to how a CMC education instills a “spirit of civility.”
“The spirited discussion of issues, and an atmosphere of genuine friendship and, good cheer—that’s the CMC way. It is embedded in our DNA,” Pitney continued.
In addition, he noted that it was “no surprise” to him that the College had recently ranked No. 1 for campus free speech by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, highlighting the portion of the survey that found CMC had the top score for both “Tolerance for Liberal Speakers” and “Tolerance for Conservative Speakers.”
Pitney then kicked off the conversation between Bullock and Dreier by asking why they considered themselves either a Republican or a Democrat.
Dreier, who first won the Republican party’s nomination for Congress while living in Phillips Hall, said that he was wearing a purple tie because he isn’t sure if he’s currently “blue or red.” However, he still aligns with traditionally Republican principles, which he defined as “a free economy, a humble government, personal freedom, and a strong, cost-effective national defense.”
Dreier was sworn into office as one of the youngest members of the House of Representatives in U.S. history, serving from 1981-2013. He recalled that while accompanying former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, on a diplomatic trip as the “token Republican,” Clinton tried to convert him to the Democratic party. Dreier recounted that he declined the offer, saying that for negotiating purposes, Clinton needed him more as a Republican than as a Democrat. “You’re absolutely right,” Dreier recalled Clinton telling him.
Bullock said that while he felt like the “token Democrat” on campus as a student during the Ronald Reagan era, he always felt comfortable expressing his viewpoint.
A former Ath server, Bullock recalled realizing he was a Democrat “sometime when I was sitting where you are,” he told students in the Ath audience.
“I believe that if you work hard and you play by the rules, that everybody ought to have a fair shot at what I always viewed as the American dream of doing better than your parents,” he said, adding that he thinks “government has a role in making sure that everyone wins.”
To which Dreier responded: “Governor Bullock has just explained why I’m a Republican.”
While the two hold starkly contrasting beliefs in the role of government, they do find common ground when it comes to their shared values. “Everybody wants a community, a decent job, clean air, clean water,” Bullock said.
The conversation stimulated several students to line up to ask questions of both Bullock and Dreier. One CMC senior wanted to know, given how contentious the world of politics has become, why were they encouraging young people to pursue a career in government or to engage in civic activity?
Bullock replied that it’s about being able to separate politics from the gratification of making meaningful legislation with a positive impact on people. “There are moments when someone who is not engaged in politics will walk up to you and talk to you about what getting health care has meant to their family,” he said.
Then there is the personal value in pursuing a career in public service. “We basically have a three-word mission statement for the Dreier Roundtable: ‘Inspire public service.’” Dreier said. “There is no greater beneficiary of your public service than you.”