Every four years the US public is entertained with a perverse, Edward Albee kind of psycho-drama, like a couple that has been married for 50 years but bickers over everything from choosing a channel on the TV to choosing a gas station to fill up.
“Herbie, what are you doing pulling into the Exxon, the Shell on Highland is 2 cents cheaper, what’s the matter with you?”
“Marge, it’s on the other side of the street and you know I can’t stand the way they streak the windshield when they clean it, how many times do I have to tell you?”
“You never were very good at finding a bargain, Herbie!” she goes on. “Remember, the condo in Miami Beach? I told you that was a steal, but no, you had to save your pennies.”
“Marge, that was 40 years ago, what do you want from my life?”
It’s no different with the Republicans and Democrats. Like Herbie and Marge, they bicker over countless imagined slights, dredge up ancient battles and grievances, torment each other with new and petty annoyances.
Yet they still co-exist. Maybe it’s too strong to say they love each other. But they stay together. They work together. They play together.
They realize that ultimately they need each other. Nothing can get done – none of those clever ideas they come up with every four years can get accomplished – without a consensus. And so despite the smirking and heckling and pesky whining they ultimately realize that living together beats the alternative.
More importantly, they agree on so much more than they disagree.
Their goals are the same: safety, security, economic prosperity, educational opportunity.
Their values are the same: integrity, honesty, openness, a free marketplace of ideas.
More jobs? Absolutely. A fairer and simpler tax code? No problem. Better schools? You got it.
History provides hundreds of examples of disagreeing partners fighting each other. Or else living in an illusory state of universal agreement. Egypt under Mubarak, for example, or Syria today under Assad: Strongmen repressing disagreement, claiming there is a consensus when there is none. And when tyranny is challenged, it erupts into civil unrest: Witness the Arab Awakening.
Our own history has a horrific scar where consensus broke down, where the bickering resulted in a divorce and violence. But for the most part we disagree civilly. We debate graciously. We fight passionately for our beliefs but with words, not swords.
Candidates attack TARP, the stimulus package that rescued our economy in 2008-09. How quickly we forget. It was the Bush administration that introduced it, and the Obama administration that continued it. Consensus. Bi-partisan agreement. And it worked.
Or the health care debate. The leading Republican presidential contender proposed an identical plan when he was Governor of Massachusetts. Obama-care is a mere tweaking of Romney-care. Consensus. Bi-partisan agreement. And so far – ask the people who are no longer being denied medical insurance because of pre-existing conditions – it’s working.
Or foreign policy. With the exception of Ron Paul, the only Republican candidate for president who calls for isolationism, both parties are in broad agreement on all but a few minor tactics. Indeed, Republicans were surprised when Obama ratified almost every significant decision of the prior administration. His Secretary of Defense was a Bush holdover. And countless foreign policy professionals served both administrations. It’s an ugly world out there. But we’re doing the best we can.
In any event, every voter knows that no candidate can anticipate what history will throw at them once in office. We elect them not for what they say but for how they share our values. And, if truth be told, whoever gets through the nomination process will share our values, whatever his or her party affiliation.
Some may be better than others, but if our guy loses it’s not a reason to pack our bags or pack heat.
Suppose that the presidential campaigns were celebrations of what we share in common instead of quadrennial verbal jousts.
“Herbie, you made a good decision to buy this car, it gets good mileage.”
“But Marge, you were the one who gave up your convertible for the hybrid. I couldn’t believe when you agreed to do that.
“Herbie, when the kids come back for Thanksgiving, you think we could drive up to that park where we took our first walk? We’ve never shown them where you first kissed me.”
“I’d love to, dear. And maybe we can also stop at that restaurant on the way back where we had our first fight.”
“That would be nice, Herb.”