While the rest of the nation seems to lose all sense of civility and reason as political divides deepen, Louisiana, believe it or not, still has the inherent ability to rise above the fray and find common ground.
That’s the message Walter Isaacson conveyed in his keynote speech, titled “Leadership and the Search for Common Ground,” at the Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana’s 2018 Annual Conference & Luncheon this afternoon. Isaacson, a New Orleans native and Tulane history professor, is the author of bestselling biographies Leonardo da Vinci and Steve Jobs as well as the former CEO of CNN and editor of Time magazine. He is also the current president and CEO of the Aspen Institute.
Isaacson commended PAR’s public policy research work in Louisiana and compared it to Benjamin Franklin’s approach to civic life and his club, The Junto, which posed questions on public issues and researched practical solutions. Members were not allowed to be unnecessarily contentious, and they appealed to Franklin’s 13 virtues, including temperance, sincerity and moderation.
“We’ve lost these ideals now, especially in Washington,” Isaacson said. “There are many causes, from the fractioning of media to things like gerrymandering … The media and our ways of doing politics has Balkanized us.”
But this is happening less so in Louisiana, Isaacson said. Despite issues playing out in the state Legislature, he argues Louisiana has a bit more common sense and camaraderie than other places.
“It’s bred into us as Louisianans—we kind of like each other,” Isaacson said. “We’re all special people because we live here in a special state.”
Louisiana is made up of so many diverse people from different backgrounds and cultures, he said, and we have a “laissez les bon temps rouler” attitude, meaning we have fun and can get along. Even our politicians can come together and find common ground, he adds, which is what a democracy is all about.
“The point is compromisers don’t make great heroes, but compromisers make great democracies,” Isaacson said. “Each of us has to know when to compromise and when to hold true to our principles, but even when holding true to our principles, we have to know how to find common ground.”