My father was actively involved in two congressional campaigns. He supported the Republican candidates for Congress in the 2nd congressional district in Oklahoma in 1964 and 1966.
He’d give me a dime for every bumper sticker I could persuade a neighbor to put on their car for the GOP standard bearer. I recall the 1964 candidate George Lange being in our home when I came home from school for lunch. My best friend Phil Taylor was impressed: “Is Barry Goldwater coming to your house tomorrow?”
I remember attending rallies for the 1966 candidate Denzel Garrison. Neither candidate was successful; both lost to incumbent Democratic rep. Ed Edmondson.
One day in 1966 I was at my grandparents’ house down the street and was rummaging through the scrapbook Grandma had put together for my dad. I noticed two postcards with cordial and friendly notes from none other than Edmondson. I was puzzled and ask my dad whether he and the congressman knew one another.
“Yes,” he replied — they were friends in high school and junior college — he still considered Ed to be his friend. “But why do you want him out of office?” I asked.
Dad replied, “Because we disagree on the proper role of government.”
Ed was an FDR-LBJ Democrat, and Dad was a Bob Taft-Barry Goldwater Republican: Nothing personal, just a difference in philosophy.
In 1969 I recall attending a support-the-troops pro-Vietnam War rally with my Dad. The speaker was Edmondson, who warmly greeted my father — they were on the same side on that issue. In 1972 I interviewed Edmondson for my high school newspaper. He was running for U.S. Senate. He had nothing but kind words for my father — they genuinely admired and respected each other despite their differences in political philosophy.
Fast forward to today. I am a member of a local civic club. Fellow members include both the Republican and Democrat candidates for 2012 for a local elected position. Both express and exhibit active affection and respect for one another.
I am faculty adviser at Ball State University for the student-led Economics Club. The outgoing student president of the Econ Club was also president of the College Republicans; the current president is an officer in University Democrats. They were both in my immersive film class — and worked famously together in both settings.
Political differences do not have to degenerate into ugly behaviors. Folks can disagree without being disagreeable. I have seen it throughout my life and know it is possible. What is common to all three stories? A common purpose that transcends politics.
Dad and Rep. Edmondson had been in high school and college debate together; my two Rotary colleagues have worked on projects together; and my two students coordinated and arranged Econ Club activities together. When you are cooking eggs and bacon with someone at the homeless shelter, it doesn’t matter much what their political or religious views are — you are yoked by a common purpose that transcends all that.
So here is a modest proposal. Let’s require that all 535 members of Congress live together in a comfortable apartment complex in D.C. Let the apartments be randomly assigned so there are no radical-chic or tea-party ghettos. Require them to arrange for all the complex’s community services, set the community rules and require their children to attend a common school. I’ll bet we’d get better government.