What Happens After the Election?
During his successful campaign for governor of New Mexico in 2002, Bill Richardson, A70, F71, H97, broke Theodore Roosevelt’s record for most handshakes by a politician, shaking 13,392 hands in eight hours.
Politics always comes down to people, Richardson told a Tufts audience on Nov. 2, during a panel discussion about governing and public service that was sponsored by the Tisch College of Civic Life.
“You’ve got to have the grassroots capacity to connect with people,” said Richardson, who also served as Bill Clinton’s energy secretary and as a U.S. congressman and ambassador to the U.N. “The way you get elected is if people trust you and like you. If it’s not genuine, you’re in trouble.”
Panelist Andy Card, a former chief of staff for President George W. Bush, noted that a large part of his job in the White House was managing the people in the room, striving to keep discussions civil and preventing any one opinion from dominating the conversation. (Card is perhaps best known for whispering the news of the September 11 attacks into Bush’s ear as the president was reading to a group of elementary school students.)
It’s up to the president to get good people into that room, and to connect with those outside it, said Card, who was also George H.W. Bush’s deputy chief of staff and his transportation secretary. “You have to say, Follow me and things will get better—and I know they will get better because I will be there with you, and we’ll do it together.”
However, Card added, it’s important not to cross the line between earning trust respect and pandering. “You have to have the courage to not be in the business of pleasing people,” he said. “You have to have a thick skin . . . .You have to serve with the courage to be lonely.”
That is especially true today, when Americans seem more divided than ever, said Richardson, who chaired the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “There’s no bipartisanship on anything. It’s all name-calling.” He acknowledged that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has connected with large numbers of voters, but he said he’s troubled by the way Trump has done that.
“American people have responded to his populist reform agenda, fraught with all those horrendous positions he’s taken in terms of minorities and women, which make it very difficult to heal,” Richardson said.
But despite that challenge, Richardson urged the Tufts audience to get off the sidelines. “Don’t be an advisor or a phone banker. Get in there; get in the arena.”
Card offered this advice to the next president: “Taste your words before you spit them out, because every word a president utters has meaning somewhere in the world—whether it’s a bureaucrat implementing one of your programs, or an enemy in another country.” He also advocated working to ensure a smooth transition between the Obama administration and the next one, including getting the new president’s appointments confirmed quickly. “It’s important to pass the baton so it’s not dropped, because the world is watching.”
Card and Richardson agree that no matter who wins on Nov. 8, it’s important for the next president to build consensus and find common ground, whether it’s with Congress, the other party or the people.
“Invite people to stand on the rug of American politics [and] not stay on the fringes,” Card said, “and heal the wounds that are always there after any election.”
Contact Monica Jimenez at firstname.lastname@example.org.