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If all our political leaders could be former political leaders, our political culture might not be so cynical and polarized, and some of us may begin truly listening to them.

We probably should be listening to them and learning from them. Those who’ve led and no longer lead — like former vice president Walter Mondale and former Minnesota governor Arne Carlson — are taking on issues these days freed from their political parties.

Though they’ve spent their adult lives on opposite sides of the party divide (Mondale as a Democrat, Carlson as a Republican), they have teamed up for causes they believe in. Chances are they won’t sway a sizable portion of 2012 voters with their opposition to Minnesota’s Voter ID amendment, but at least no one will be able to say they’re enslaved by their political parties.

At a time when currently serving Democrats and Republicans act like puppets on a string, it’s refreshing to hear from those ex-leaders who are free to state their views on their own terms — and on the issues’ own merits.

Mondale and Carlson are making the rounds these days, saying the amendment is wrong for Minnesota.

Predictably, Republicans scoff, especially at the former governor, who they say has abandoned Republican principles long ago.

Fair enough. But no one can say he’s being led by the Republican leadership, for that matter. Nor by any other leadership. As a former governor, Carlson is a free man.

It’s hard to be critical of former politicians speaking out on issues, or living their lives as they see fit past their political primes. There are many examples of this.

For instance, former presidents can be instructive, and lead the rest of us into periods of thoughtful contemplation. Bill Clinton raised a mini-ruckus recently when he appeared critical of President Obama’s re-election strategies.

Freedom can be a balm for other ex-presidents. Jimmy Carter, generally regarded as a poor leader during his 1970s presidency, is admired around the world for his humanitarian causes and for his work in promoting democracy overseas. And recently some of us noticed a photograph of George W. Bush, who quietly toured Africa promoting his institute’s initiative to prevent and treat cervical cancer.

Bush, regarded by some as a failed president, has already won admiration in some circles for his determination to avoid engaging in political fights post-presidency. He has so far raised more than $85 million for his cancer cause.

During this election year, as politicians seek the limelight to further their political careers, it’s refreshing to think about our former leaders working either quietly or back in the public picture — not to further themselves, but showing us their humanity and furthering personal causes they don’t have to believe in, but do anyway.

The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

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