A bipartisan group of former U.S. senators, governors and party leaders who share concerns about "partisan polarization" in the presidential campaign will gather at the University of Oklahoma to urge an end to party squabbling and consider a possible independent candidate, university President David Boren said Sunday.
Boren, a former Democratic U.S. senator from Oklahoma who organized the Jan. 7 event with Sam Nunn, a former Democratic senator from Georgia, said the meeting will serve as a form of "shock therapy" to the major-party candidates to "stop the bickering" and provide Americans with a blueprint for bipartisanship in Washington.
"We used to work together across party lines and we used to cooperate with each other," Boren said of his relationships with current and former senators who plan to attend. "It is a message to the two parties: Please rise to the occasion. If you don't, there is always a possibility out there of an independent."
Boren told The Associated Press that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a potential independent presidential candidate, is one of more than a dozen political leaders who are likely to attend the meeting on the university's Norman campus. The meeting is scheduled one day before the New Hampshire primary.
But Boren said other participants, including Nunn, former Republican senator John Danforth of Missouri and Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., have also been discussed as possible third-party candidates.
"We need statesmanship, not politics," Boren said. "The meeting in itself implies there could be other possibilities."
Plans for the meeting were first reported by The Washington Post.
A Dec. 18 letter from Boren and Nunn raises concern about a "gathering storm" of challenges facing the next president, including creation of national energy and environmental strategies and the need to "rebuild and reconfigure our military forces."
"We must develop a viable and sustainable approach to nuclear proliferation and terrorism and greatly strengthen our intelligence and diplomatic capabilities," the letter states. "Most importantly, we must begin to restore our standing, influence and credibility in the world.
"Our political system is, at the least, badly bent and many are concluding that it is broken at a time where America must lead boldly at home and abroad," the letter states. "Partisan polarization is preventing us from uniting to meet the challenges that we must face if we are to prevent further erosion of America's power of leadership and example."
"As the letter says, we've literally become a house divided," Boren said. "It's going to undermine the strength of America if we don't change it. So many of these things require bipartisanship."
He said recent national polls found that a majority of Americans believe that the nation's future will not be as great as its past.
"We've always believed in our future -- and our future greatness," Boren said. "They see that this political polarization, constant fighting among the parties, is keeping us from solving the problems that we face."
Presidential debates so far in the campaign have produced little national discussion of the most compelling issues, he said.
"Many of the major issues are just not being addressed," he said. Many major presidential candidates want to embrace a bipartisan platform but fear being attacked politically, Boren said.
"Real leaders find ways to unite us," he said. "We really need a government of national unity."