Jim, Carl and Myself and Our Embrace of Civility
Please don’t tell anyone, but some of my friends are evangelical conservative Republicans, my political polar opposites.
I am a talking voice on an Internet radio political talk show in small rural southern county begun and moderated by an Episcopalian vicar.
I am an unapologetic Democrat on a program that broadcasts to an audience that is close to 65-percent Republican. Two of the local county commissioners, Jim and Carl, are unabashedly evangelical conservatives who, despite a federal court ruling to the contrary, open county commissioner meetings with Christian prayers. They led the opposition to same sex marriage.
Regardless, I like Jim and Carl.
I’ve known Jim for 40 years. If I were drowning, I bet he would be the first to dive in to save me. I knew of Carl – I didn’t really like him – but I met him across the table every week as one of the Republican talking voices, and I now really enjoy being with him.
Most of the time, I find myself swimming upstream advocating my theories that government is important, does good and is critical to helping make tomorrow better than today. That makes me a liberal. In today’s world, I cannot be called much worse. Carl and Jim generally believe the best government is the least government and support traditional values, that is, that yesterday was better than today.
The U.S. political axis shifted in the 1960s. We put a man on the moon, but we also expanded the social safety net and waged a failed War on Poverty. Voters began shifting to conservatism. President Richard Nixon exploited the politics of division. When he declared that he was not a crook, government became the enemy, not the friend, of the people, even though the government is us.
Carl and I laugh way too much. We and the other talking voices share humorous emails during the week. We also agree on a surprising number of issues, or at least, find a lot of middle ground. Maybe too much. Every week, I find myself saying, “If anyone hears that I agree with Carl, it may ruin my reputation.”
Carl jokes likewise.
That’s not to say that Carl and I don’t disagree. We do, but we are never disagreeable or nasty toward each other. I miss Carl when he is not there. He genuinely believes what he believes and that makes me think. And we laugh.
One question last week was, “What is necessary to revitalize our county’s economy?”
I said: “For decades, the county’s economy was dependent on textiles. Almost 10,000 jobs are gone and are not coming back. Independent drug stores like my family’s are being crushed or swallowed by CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. The only answer, in my opinion, is to have a strong education system that produces a highly qualified workforce and strong leadership that aggressively chases smart businesses because we offer them a workforce and lifestyle no one else can. Amazon is opening 140 new warehouses around the country. Why not here?”
Carl talked about reducing regulations and the importance of widening the interstate highway in the county. I agreed having been through a regulatory purgatory but reminded him that building highways was a government action.
Carl and the other participants on the broadcast are different than I am. They put their names, their ideas and their reputations on the ballot. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Only the test of fire makes fine steel.” They face the heat of public opinion. I only write about it.
Certainly, I’ve disagreed with Jim and Carl – particularly on the public prayer issue – and have said so to them publicly. But, if I ever ran for office and won – both very unlikely – I’m confident that we would get along, find a lot of common ground and have some laughs along the way.
A few weeks ago, I met Joe Scarborough, Morning Joe on MSNBC. He talked about how “vile” Washington has become because congressmen no longer know each other personally. He talked about his first term as a Republican congressman when he was hell-bent against a Democrat who had proposed new legislation. One day, he picked his daughter up at kindergarten and learned that her best friend was the Democrat’s daughter. He thought, “Oh, my God, he’s a nice guy. I can’t attack him.” He toned down his rhetoric and worked out a compromise.
President Ronald Reagan and House Speaker Tip O’Neill were on opposite sides of the political spectrum but famously shared drinks and laughter after dark.
Washington must find a way to be pleasant to each other again. Only then will government work again.
See you next week, Carl.