Politics didn't always mean disharmony

Updated 10/17/2020 8:15 AM

A local media blog contributor recently found it odd that Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia got along so well. I asked myself "Since when is disagreeing about the law a reason not to get along?"

If you're old enough to grasp current issues but not much older, you might find the Justices' collegiality surprising. We old-timers, however, recall when political opponents, and dare I say society in general, could separate who someone was personally from what they believed.


Justices Ginsburg and Scalia were throwbacks to that era. Doesn't their cordial relationship despite their conflicting ideologies say something positive about both of them?

In 2004, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, once bitter rivals, teamed up to raise millions of dollars for the 2004 Sumatra-area tsunami victims. Republican Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen helped President Lyndon Johnson pass the Civil Rights Bill in 1964. Alabama Governor and segregationist George Wallace worked with Black Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm to get minimum wage legislation passed for domestic workers.

If you are young and disillusioned, or older and resigned to today's disharmony, watch Jim Lehrer's 1988 PBS NewsHour interview with Senators Barry Goldwater and George McGovern. Though political polar opposites, the interview shows how to disagree agreeably, and should be required viewing for anyone considering public service. Call it Getting Along 101.

If you're curious about a time when attitudes defaulted to compromise, instead of spite, watch the video. It may make you smile, angry, or sad depending on your degree of cynicism. You'll at least see what's possible -- or used to be.

Jim Newton


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