Libraries for 13 Presidents Agree on Risk to Democracy

Joint plea stresses need for compassion and tolerance
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 7, 2023 7:15 PM CDT
Presidential Libraries Issue Appeal to Preserve Democracy
Luci Baines Johnson looks at the desk on May 16 displayed at the LBJ Presidential Library, where President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.   (AP Photo/Stephen Spillman, File)

Concern for US democracy amid deep national polarization has prompted the entities supporting 13 presidential libraries dating back to Herbert Hoover to call for a recommitment to the country's bedrock principles, including the rule of law and respecting a diversity of beliefs. The statement released Thursday, the first time the libraries have joined to make such a public declaration, said Americans have a strong interest in supporting democratic movements and human rights around the world because "free societies elsewhere contribute to our own security and prosperity here at home," the AP reports. "But that interest," the statement said, "is undermined when others see our own house in disarray."

The joint message from presidential centers, foundations, and institutes emphasized the need for compassion, tolerance, and pluralism while urging Americans to respect democratic institutions and uphold secure and accessible elections. The statement noted that "debate and disagreement" are central to democracy but also alluded to the coarsening of dialogue in the public arena during an era when officials and their families are receiving death threats. "Civility and respect in political discourse, whether in an election year or otherwise, are essential," it said.

Most of the living former presidents have been sparing in giving their public opinions about the state of the nation. Thursday's statement stopped short of calling out individuals, but it still marked one of the most substantive acknowledgments that people associated with the nation's former presidents are worried about the country's trajectory. The bipartisan statement was signed by the Hoover Presidential Foundation, the Roosevelt Institute, the Truman Library Institute, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, the LBJ Foundation, the Richard Nixon Foundation, the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation, the Carter Center, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, the George & Barbara Bush Foundation, the Clinton Foundation, the George W. Bush Presidential Center and the Obama Foundation. Those organizations all support presidential libraries created under the Presidential Library Act of 1955, along with the Eisenhower Foundation.

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The Eisenhower Foundation told the AP that it did not sign the statement because there was no group discussion. The initiative was spearheaded by David Kramer, executive director of the George W. Bush Institute. Kramer said the former president "did see and signed off on this statement." Melissa Giller of the Ronald Reagan Foundation and Institute, said the statement represents "everything our center will stand for." Valerie Jarrett of the Obama Foundation said former President Barack Obama supported the statement. "This is a moment where we could all come together and show that democracy is not about partisan politics," she said. "It's about making our country strong, making our country more decent, more kind, more humane."

(More presidential library stories.)

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