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13 former presidents of the U.S. have issued a joint statement in support of democracy

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A short statement was issued this week in defense of democracy here in the United States. It includes the following - as a diverse nation of people with different backgrounds and beliefs, democracy holds us together. It was issued by the presidential centers of 13 American presidents, including Obama, Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt and Hoover. The statement was organized by the George W. Bush Institute, and its executive director, David Kramer, joins us now from Dallas. Thanks so much for being with us, Mr. Kramer.

DAVID KRAMER: Thank you for the opportunity.

SIMON: What made it important to issue this statement now?

KRAMER: We certainly are living through some challenging times these days. But we thought it was important to step back from the day-to-day headlines and to remind ourselves and remind our fellow American citizens of what makes our country great, what makes the United States so unique. And it's that we're founded on ideals of freedom and democracy. And so we wanted to emphasize the importance of compassion and tolerance, pluralism, respect for others. And we wanted to come together in a bipartisan, even nonpartisan spirit to make this unprecedented statement. The centers and foundations have never done this before.

SIMON: Yeah. And, well, but why now? Is there something going on in this country that made you feel it was necessary?

KRAMER: Well, the statement is not directed at any individual, any campaign, even next year's election. We think this is a statement that can stand for the foreseeable future. It's a positive statement. It's a forward-leaning statement. It's also an acknowledgment that when our house is in disarray, it undermines our efforts to be a leader on the global scene.

SIMON: I have to be blunt, it has nothing to do with Donald Trump or people who deny the results of the 2020 election that Joe Biden won?

KRAMER: We don't focus on an individual. We do recognize that there have been questions raised about the integrity of our elections. We have been conducting elections in this country for a long, long time. And while maybe they're not perfect, we actually do know how to conduct free and fair elections. We also think that there's a need for bipartisanship and compromise on occasion.

SIMON: You know, Mr. Kramer, we hear from people every day who say they don't want compromise. They don't want to hear a contrary viewpoints.

KRAMER: Debate and disagreement in a democracy are absolutely vital. It's important to be challenged when one holds views. But at the end of the day, it's also important to get things done. And, yes, I recognize that bipartisanship, compromise, those have become dirty words to some. But when you have a narrow majority in the House or the Senate or you have different parties holding the White House and the Congress, there is a need to come together to get things done. It doesn't mean everyone has to agree. But it does mean that, at some point, you need a majority to approve things that a president can sign.

SIMON: How involved was former President Bush in writing this?

KRAMER: He saw the statement. He approved it. And it was based on that that we then reached out to the other presidential centers, and we got a very enthusiastic response.

SIMON: I don't have to tell you, the Eisenhower Foundation didn't sign. They said there should have been a collective discussion prior to the statement.

KRAMER: Yeah. But, you know, it's up to them, really, for them to address that issue. I'll let them speak for themselves.

SIMON: You say, Mr. Kramer, this isn't timed with the approach of the 2024 election. I still have to ask you, would the statement have been issued if - I'm not even going to say the name - a certain candidate wasn't leading in the polls as the Republican primary choice at the moment?

KRAMER: As a matter of fact, it would have. Because the idea for this statement actually was something we had last year, and we then put it on the shelf and decided...

SIMON: I don't think that person was any less popular last year.

KRAMER: Maybe not. But it isn't about one individual. I understand the question and respect your need to ask it, but we are focused on where we are as a country, not where we are in any polls. We've been in ups and downs throughout our history, and there's no linear path to democratic development. But we wanted to remind our fellow citizens that we are a greater nation when we are united. It doesn't mean we agree on everything. But there are times where we have to come together in order to advance the greater good.

SIMON: David Kramer is executive director of the George W. Bush Institute. Thanks so much for being with us.

KRAMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
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