Herald-Leader Editorial

Shining example of leadership; let's hope Suu Kyi's spirit is infectious

September 27, 2012 

US Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi, center, last week received the Congressional Gold Medal from House Speaker John Boehner, left, as former first lady Laura Bush, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell watched.

JACQUELYN MARTIN — AP

One of the world's most inspiring political figures, Aung San Suu Kyi, acknowledged the long and outspoken support she received from Sen. Mitch McConnell with a speech Monday at the University of Louisville, where she also dined amidst the colorful kitsch of Lynn's Paradise Cafe.

It really is a small world.

Suu Kyi was in the United States to accept honors she received during the 15 years a military dictatorship kept her under house arrest in her native Burma. On a 17-day American tour, she said she hoped Burma's fledgling democracy can learn from the U.S.

But, really, we need to learn from her.

Suu Kyi has reached out to her former jailers, the military junta that cut off Burma from the world, snuffed all dissent and inflicted great suffering on her and her family.

"We are beginning to learn to work together," she said at the U.S. Institute of Peace. "We are beginning to learn the art of compromise, give and take, achievement of consensus. It is good that this is beginning in the legislature and we hope this will spread and become part of the political culture of Burma."

We'd love to know what Senate Republican Leader McConnell, grand master of division and obstruction, thought when he heard that.

At a time when American political culture has been poisoned and Congress all but paralyzed by knee-jerk partisanship, let's hope McConnell and his colleagues took some inspiration from Suu Kyi's remarkable spirit of reconciliation.

McConnell has said he became interested in Burma after reading a newspaper article in 1990 about Suu Kyi being kept under house arrest after her political party won 80 percent of the seats in Parliament.

McConnell became one of Suu Kyi's most important allies in Washington and helped ratchet up the economic pressure on the Southeast Asian nation's dictatorship.

McConnell was one of the first Americans to visit her in Burma after her release. And, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he was among those flanking her as she received the Congressional Gold Medal. He praised her "luminous heroism."

Suu Kyi is now a member of parliament and leads an opposition party that could take power in upcoming elections. She is second in power only to President Thein Sein, the former general who, bowing to international and internal pressures, initiated democratic reforms and released her in late 2010.

A Nobel laureate, she has said: "It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."

If Suu Kyi can reach out to those who brutally repressed her and her fellow Burmese, you have to wonder: Would it kill McConnell to reach out to a Democratic president every once in a while?

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