Great comments from former Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the College of William and Mary. Everyone, please pay attention. We have to find a way to move forward inclusively.
Robert Gates, speaking at William and Mary, said no politician has “a monopoly on real truth.”
By Bill Bartel
The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot
WILLIAMSBURG — The United States is in peril — not so much from foreign threats but from mean-spirited partisan feuds that make it impossible to solve the nation’s problems — former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned Friday.
“We are now in uncharted territory when it comes to the dysfunction of our political system,” Gates said a speech during the College of William and Mary’s Charter Day ceremony.
“It appears that as a result of several polarizing trends in American politics and culture, we have lost the ability to execute even the basic functions in government, much less solve the most difficult and divisive problems facing the country.”
Gates served as defense secretary for President Obama and President George W. Bush, was the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a member of the National Security Council staff of several presidents. He said political fights have always been a part of American politics. But those in power understood that they had to compromise for the good of the country.
Not so today, he said.
“The moderate center, the foundation of our political system, is not holding. Moderation is now equated with lacking principles. Compromise is selling out. Yet our entire system of government depends on compromises.”
Without singling out Democrats or Republicans, he blamed the toxic political climate on gerrymandering of legislative districts that lock in control of one party. It gives too much power to the ideological extremists, he said, and congressional committee chairmen lack the power to reach deals.
“I have worked for eight presidents and known many politicians in both parties for nearly five decades. And I never met one who had a monopoly on real truth,” he said.
“At a time when our country faces too many obstacles at home and abroad, we have too many leaders whose outsized egos are coupled with undersized backbones.”
Gates said America’s leaders should take heed of the actions of the Founding Fathers, who could be brutal in their political debate, “yet compromised when necessary for the greater good.” A Kansas native and a 1965 graduate of William and Mary, Gates was appointed the university’s chancellor, a ceremonial post recently held by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.