Blog: Politicians Should Treat Colleagues Like Family

Whenever I run into an older person who has a dodgy relationship with daughters, sons or various in-laws, I think how sad that must be. I also wonder if a little diplomacy might help to mend the rift, no matter what or who originally caused it.

Many years ago, I learned from my younger sister how important family can be. We used to have large dinners at the ranch and, or course, there was always someone who drank too much or talked too loudly or just seemed to enjoy arguing. My sister would listen quietly, never getting into a shouting match, and when the other person stopped to catch a breath, she would simply say something like, “That’s nice, but have you ever thought . . .” And then she would quietly give the opposite view and her windy opponent would just fade. No argument, no challenge, just peace and quiet. 

Somewhere along the way, I realized I didn’t have her gift for diplomacy. I was too easily lured into the fray. But then, she had survived as a high school teacher for a long time and was regularly named the most popular teacher by those same students who once had fear in their hearts.

At the beginning of each semester, she would tell the class exactly what was expected and what the penalty would be for breaking a rule. She never wavered but she also never lost her sense of humor.

We’ve just finished what serves in our family as a reunion: All of my adult children, their spouses, or significant others, and most of my grandchildren. It was a weeklong blast, one that I’ll remember for as long as I’m on this planet. My sister had just returned from visiting her relatives in France and wasn’t up to making the trip. I think we all missed her. Anyway, because we have differing points of view on politics, religion and all the heavy stuff, we just avoided those contentious topics and stuck to lighter fare.

So, why can’t our representatives in government take the same approach? Ostensibly, politicians have better diplomacy skills than the rest of us. So why don’t they get to know each other, find the smaller points on which they can agree and just leave the heavy lifting to a later time? By then, they may have developed friendships that might help them to reach consensus on the weightier issues. What a concept!

If we can accomplish this in a family, where we have widely divergent opinions, why can’t they follow these simple measures in congress? Is it because we value family over our varying opinions, knowing we probably can’t change each other’s views? Or is it that politicians hope their opponents will be replaced in the next election? This may happen, but then what have they learned besides how to say “No” to anything the other side proposes?

Recently, I was asked to lead our book club discussion of “The 19th Wife” a novel about Mormons and polygamy. Club members come from various backgrounds and their opinions vary widely so the discussions are interesting and somewhat unpredictable. One gentleman, whose political views are slightly to the right of Marine Le Pen, surprised us all with the depth of his understanding. Did I agree with what he said about the book? Yes. Has he changed my political views? Not even a little. But he added a lot to the discussion.

Do I believe that President Trump is entitled to have cabinet members of his own choosing? Yes. Do I oppose some of them? Yes.

For instance, would I have chosen Neil Gorsuch to replace Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court? Probably not, because I disagree with many of his decisions. However, he replaces a justice with far right views, so the balance of the court would seem to be the same and I respect his deep knowledge of the law and the way he has conducted himself in most situations.

Now, the next appointment could be more critical. If, say, Ruth Bader Ginsburg were to retire, her replacement might be much further to the left in order to retain similar balance. So, all these things come into play and are worthy of discussion. But they should not be subject to knee-jerk reactions and the just-say-no policies of those seeking revenge for the rejection by Republicans of former President Obama’s candidate Merrick Garland, a man of similar qualifications.

If we can hope for balance and common sense to replace ideology, then maybe our leaders can treat each other like family.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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