Today’s U.S. politicians could learn some valuable lessons from looking at emerging democracies around the world, a former congressman said.
Mark Green, who formerly represented northeast Wisconsin on Capitol Hill and later served as U.S. ambassador to Tanzania, says his current role as president of the International Republican Institute to help promote democracy around the globe has allowed him to gain a deeper appreciation for the form of government America’s founding fathers implemented 140 years ago.
“I find the work very rewarding,” Green said in an interview with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. “There’s nothing more rewarding than going to a country like Tunisia or Burma … and watching citizens stand in lines and risk their security to further their democracy.”
For example, Ukrainian voters turned out to the polls, despite the bullet holes in the walls and continuing threats their safety, compared to the United States, where voter turnout sometimes can dip into the single digits, Green said.
“Here it’s easy to vote; we complain if it rains … and there’s a low turnout,” he said.
Green, who represented Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District from 1999 to 2007, returned to northeast Wisconsin last week, speaking to students, faculty and community members at Ripon College and participating in a Model United Nations event at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
“Look, it’s your turn,” Green said of his message to students. “There are lots of challenges out there, but we really need our young people to get out there and understand the issues.”
One of four core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy, which also includes the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, chaired by U.S. Sen. John McCain. The IRI attempts to embody the message President Ronald Reagan gave to members of British Parliament during a 1982 speech at Westminster Abbey to “foster the infrastructure of democracy around the world.”
In many parts of the world, political parties are not based on ideology as they are in the United States but rather on other factors, such as geography or ethnicity, Green said. With funding from the National Endowment and other sources, the group helps build democracies from the ground up and also observes elections.
“In one sense, we help political parties become modern,” Green said, noting the group has worked in about 100 countries, including the Ukraine, Uganda, Haiti, Tunisia and Burma.
The institute, chaired by U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also conducts polls on political issues, serves as an independent policy adviser on Capitol Hill and works with the Women’s Democracy Network.
While serving in Congress, Green also unsuccessfully challenged Gov. Jim Doyle in the 2006 gubernatorial race after then-Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker dropped out of the race before the GOP primary. Green said he doesn’t miss the politics of his old job.
“Somehow I don’t think the town in my day was like what it is now. It’s far more combative (now), and I don’t think that’s healthy,” he said. “I worry that too many people in politics — not just candidates (but also) people and pundits — tend to take everything personally, and that’s unfortunate.”
With that said, 2016 will be an interesting year in politics, Green said.
“It’s fascinating right now,” he said. “The one thing I’ll say is you can see that people are so frustrated that they’re turning, in some cases, to candidates that are well outside the dialogue of politics. … It means our institutions aren’t working that well.
“When these elections are done, I think we have a lot of work to do as a democracy to look at ourselves in the mirror and help our government be more responsive,” he said. “It’s interesting because we work with leaders all around the world, and they’re watching.”Top