Phil Lewis: Former president knows what Washington needs

Phil Lewis

I caught the Bush brothers the other night at the Naples Grande during a unique Town Hall Distinguished Speaker Series session.

For those who missed the news reports of the event, President George W. Bush and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush were on stage together.

As you might imagine, the house was packed Tuesday night for such a rare event. Usually, the speaker series features one famous person. This time there were two and they were accompanied by a familiar face from television news: Fox News journalist Jim Angle, who served as moderator.

The former president and the former governor sat on stage in two easy chairs. The president was in the middle and his brother was to his left. Angle was to the president’s right asking the questions.

It was mostly a Bush lovefest. Local news media had no access to the Bush brothers. Angle was the lone questioner and he lobbed softball after softball to the brothers. It was little more than batting practice. The crowd — nearly 1,000 — enjoyed every minute.

And, that’s OK. That’s the way it was meant to be.

Angle was there as “moderator,” not “griller.” No speaker at Town Hall is ever set up to be the “grill-ee.”

The purpose is to provide those willing to buy a ticket the chance to hear speakers who have a significant place in history and to gain insight into the roles those speakers played — or continue to play — in national and world events.

George W. Bush delivered.

The way I saw it he hit two tape-measure shots.

One was a stirring speech on democracy and freedom. When he was done, you had the urge to jump from your seat and applaud. Most did.

The second didn’t get as much reaction from the audience, but it should give us all something to contemplate with the 2010 census under way and the redrawing of congressional districts scheduled to follow.

Angle asked the brothers about the gridlock in Washington and the polarization that exists with the two political parties.

The president jumped on it. (If you’ll allow me another sports analogy: He didn’t pull it to right field, nor hit to left; he took it deep to center field, way out of the park.)

He noted that congressional districts are drawn by leaders of the two main political parties, so gerrymandering is rampant, meaning lines are drawn to group neighborhoods and towns in districts that will have a high percentage of like-registered voters. Republican strongholds are linked up in one district. Democratic strongholds are linked in another.

The results are districts that are “safe,” too easy for one party or the other to control.

He said districts need to be drawn so there is “more balance” in party affiliation.

The implied result would be candidates who have to seek votes from a more diverse electorate. It just might cure the polarization plague up in Washington.

He went on to lament how party politics result in leaders who think too much about popularity and re-election.

He said he was once told by a Republican Party leader that his popularity was going to cost the GOP a majority in Congress. He intimated to members of the audience that his response was a bit too harsh to share with them.

He wrapped things up by saying that politicians should not hold power for the sake of holding power.

They should hold power to use it, meaning they need to make things happen.

And, that’s not what’s happening in Washington.

Phil Lewis is editor of the Daily News. His e-mail address is plewis@naplesnews.com

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