At a time of elevated partisanship in domestic affairs, U.S. political leaders would do well to reflect on a path-breaking bipartisan initiative that helped liberate millions from authoritarian rule, writes Mark R. Kennedy.
“As today’s political leaders seek to overcome the challenge of reaching consensus on economic policy and enhancing U.S. national security, they would benefit by studying the achievements of Chuck Manatt and Frank Fahrenkopf at the “Making Democracy Work” exhibit that the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) opens this weekend,” he writes for the Huffington Post:
While the comity, respect, and humor enjoyed by Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill is often praised, fewer understand the profound and long-lasting impact that resulted from the cooperation of then-Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Charles Manatt and Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Frank Fahrenkopf. While both chairmen were tireless advocates for their own party’s platform, they inherently understood their common interest was in laying the foundation for transition from authoritarian governments that controlled so much of the world’s political map in 1983.
It was bipartisan action that gave institutional form to President Reagan’s vision, outlined in his historic Westminster address of June 1982 to defy, of an initiative “…to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means.”
“President Reagan’s plan was not simply his own invention,” writes Kennedy, professor and director of George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management:
It sprang from a major study titled “Project Democracy,” conducted by the American Political Foundation founded in 1979 by Manatt and RNC Chairman Bill Brock. Responding to Reagan’s challenge and conditions around the world, Congress authorized and funded the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the Center for Private Enterprise (CIPE), and the Solidarity Center. Manatt and Fahrenkopf were among the founders of NED and helped guide its first 10 years. Manatt served as Founding Chairman of NDI. Frank Farhrenkopf served as Founding Chairman of IRI and continues to serve on its board.
“The new freedoms many enjoy today resulted from the democracy promotion efforts spawned by Reagan, Rep. Dante Fascell, Manatt, Fahrenkopf, and others,” he concludes. “We owe them a great debt. Their success contributed to the fall of communism without a shot being fired.”