I'm often reminded of the era in history when Congressman Tip O'Neill was Speaker of the House and Ronald Reagan was president. O'Neill was once perturbed by something Reagan had said about him and the Speaker called to protest. Reagan shrugged it off and said, “Oh, that was politics, after six in the evening we’re friends.” Actually, Reagan would later speak at a testimonial dinner for O'Neill.
When Lyndon Johnson was president he would often call Republican Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen to the White House after the Senate recessed for the evening. The two would share a bottle of Cutty Sark together and they would often get things done such as appointments that Dirksen wanted and bills that Johnson requested Republicans support such as the civil rights bill, education reform, and a whole litany of issues.
Can you imagine that happening today? No way. And that's the problem.
In Washington, each side has to depend on their own votes to either pass or block a bill or a nomination. Sadly, bipartisanship is a thing of the past in many instances.
Currently, I serve as a Democratic county committee member in the Third Ward in Paterson. Yes, I'm a partisan and I am proud to stand up for my principles but that doesn't mean that members of the opposite party are enemies. There's nothing wrong with seeing another perspective. I enjoy dialogue and debate but at the end of the day we are not enemy combatants. As Lincoln once said, "charity to all and malice to none." I appreciate people who are willing to get involved into the arena of public affairs. It means that you care and are not apathetic.
We need leaders that will summon our better angels and bring us together. Yes, be critical but be willing to reach out and bridge the divide.
We could use this thinking in all levels of government. There's too much rhetoric in order to score points in our politics today. We can make points without being personal. Let us bring all different races, genders, ethnicities, religions and orientations together.
There is no greater honor than the title of statesman.
My friends, we can and must do better.