The American Compact: Where Can Good Republicans Turn?

03/15/2007 01:24 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Yesterday I suggested that all of the leading Republican candidates for President had in some way compromised themselves, by collaborating with the cabal currently running their party and the nation. Does that mean that the Republican rank and file somehow equally tainted by association with the Bush/Cheney/Rove/Gonzales crowd?

Absolutely not. Although I'm a lifelong Democrat, I worked on State Department projects under President Bush the First and was honored to do so. Americans of both parties, even those who differed strongly, could always collaborate when the time came. In fact, until this Administration seized power the nation operated under something I've described as "The American Compact."

The American Compact is an unspoken agreement that says the two parties may differ, and they may get rough sometimes in the fight for electoral power, but - except for some localized abuses on both sides - neither party will undermine the core operating principles of our democratic system.

These principles include free and open elections, fair and public debate in Congress (unlike the iron-fisted rule of the recently deposed GOP majority), and use of government power strictly for the public trust (e.g. no politicized use of Federal prosecutors).

A few egregious examples notwithstanding (Watergate, questions about the Democratic voter abuses in 1960 ), the Compact's held firm for a long, long time. Then came the Supreme Court's 2000 decision in Bush v. Gore, and the American Compact - the operating system for America's political machinery - crashed.

Or, rather, it was infected by a systemic virus that included vote-tampering, misuse and abuse of government agencies for partisan gain - even the possible manipulation of terror alerts, which threatened to undermine our national security efforts.

We need to restore the American Compact. "Our democracy must not only be the envy of the world," said Albert Einstein, "but must be the engine of our own renewal." Those words were never more true.

I suggested yesterday that Messrs. Giuliani, Romney, and McCain were tainted by their willingness to compromise with the current crowd. So, where can good Republicans turn for leadership? They can wait for Chuck Hagel, for one thing. Hagel's a decent man, although he's extremely conservative and therefore not someone I can picture supporting from the Democratic side.

But we don't even know if Hagel will run. As a Senator, John McCain's career has been marked by frequent acts of integrity and class -- although his more recent career, especially his compromise on the torture issue, have been a disappointment. Still, if his Presidential campaign founders he might be able to shake the demons of ambition that have led him to compromise on matters of principle. Then he stands a good chance of once again becoming a GOP leader in the Senate worthy of respect and trust.

But what about the Presidency? If there's nobody running that a Republican can support with a good conscience, that leaves either a third party or the Democrats. There doesn't seem to be a viable third party option for disaffected GOP'ers, so all that's left for them is Other Party.

Which brings us to an important tactical question for the Democrats: How can they appeal to these alienated Republicans (at least I hope they're alienated), without compromising their own principles?

I think the question contains the answer. If certain Democrats continue to present themselves as "Republican lite," it will almost certainly backfire. Think about it: These Republicans will be looking for an alternative because they've been misled and manipulated. Any sense that it could be happening again will drive them away.

Nor are they looking for vague platitudes, or for chimerical ideas like a "Unity Party" made of established politicians from both parties - the one that got us in this mess and the one that didn't stop them.

They'll be looking, as many Americans are, for honest leadership. Both the adjective - "honest" - and the noun - "leadership" - are critical. After eight years in the wilderness, they'll be looking for someone to lead them back home. And, although they may not have put it in these terms, "home" is the America they remember from years past.

"Home, " in other words, is the land of the American Compact.

The Compact may sound like a vague, Mom-and-Apple-Pie idea, but it's not. The candidate who stands firmly for the Compact will have to be tough. They'll have to show resolve and determination in fighting the cynicism and corruption of recent years. They'll have to name names. The Compact's been broken and they'll have to fight for it. They won't get to pull any punches.

They'll have to hold up their end of the Compact, too - by telling voters exactly what they stand for and what they intend to do should they be elected. The electorate won't accept any less than that from someone claiming the mantle of that compact.

The Democrat who truthfully represents him- or herself while standing for the American Compact is more likely to draw these Republicans than the one who tries to be all things to all people. And that Democrat will have run a race worth running, and worth supporting.

Einstein also said, "There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America." That's still true, too, if we're lucky enough to find leadership that's up to the task.