It seems almost impossible to believe, but there was a time when members of the opposite parties in Congress actually liked each other. Not tolerated each other, or agreed to meet occasionally. They really liked each other.
There are stories of leaders of Congress who had dinner together regularly, acted as Godparents for each other’s children, went to the weddings of their daughters and sons, and even went on vacation together. And yes, they were Republicans and Democrats.
The result of that behavior is that things got done in Congress. Arguments took place, debates were colorful and honest. But in the end these men and women could walk out of the room together, sit down for a drink together, or watch a movie together in one of their homes.
It is called comity, a 16th century Latin word, comitas meaning courteous. It is a word not confined to American politics. In fact, it has application to the relationship between nations.
I suppose that people who do not believe that there was a holocaust, or that we are experiencing a global warming might doubt that such a thing actually happened within the lofty halls of Congress. But I can attest to the fact that it did. I saw Democrats like Tip O’Neil, colorful Speaker of the House, put his arm around Bob Dole, perhaps his most bitter Republican opponent in Congress. When O’Neil died, the Republican House Majority Leader, Bob Michel, said of him,
“Partisanship was put aside, and we could be the best of friends….”
Civility is not something someone chooses to practice. It is a part of one’s personality, taught as a child, practiced throughout one’s growing up, and…hopefully…a permanent trait by which one is known as an adult.
Comity is not terribly visible in today’s political arena, and, as a result, respect for Congress and other political entities is at an all-time low. Whether it be in the halls of Washington institutions or in the Town Hall in middle America, it has become common to be known as the bitter enemy of the opposition. I have watched local election relationships dissolve before my eyes as nasty attacks, half-truths, and not-so-subtle personal criticisms have taken over. The public is entertained by the spats and battles and the media are in seventh heaven over the ratings which soar when blood is shed.
I heard an interview on NPR in which the commentator asked a guest if he thought it would ever be possible to regain the kind of comity which used to characterize American politics. I had hoped for him to guardedly say “yes, but it’s going to take some time.” Instead he was constrained to bluntly say “no, I don’t see it coming back to the days of friendliness and respect we once knew.” My heart sank.
The recent years of political battle have taken a toll on America. While accusation and even slander have taken front row in the political theater, comity lies dying like Hamlet on the floor of the stage.
As a result, America’s needs get brushed aside and the infrastructure of the nation continues to crumble. Foreign policy and domestic economics fail. Education in our country and good health care reform are weapons rather than success stories. It is very discouraging.
Photo Credit: Wacky Deli