Dispelling One of the Biggest Myths in Modern Politics

Presidents George H.W. Bush, Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton & Carter in the Oval Office.
A grainy photo of five former presidents standing together, if a bit uncomfortably. Public domain.

The story we get told is that everything is partisan and politicians can agree on nothing across the aisle.

But, as a cashier recently said when I offhandedly remarked that it had been raining for years, "I call B.S."

Point of fact: It had been raining for an awfully long time. Not, I admit, years. Though it felt like years to my soul.

There are a handful of attention-grabbing issues where folks have planted their flags and aren't moving...at least yet (see Utah story below). A wise old D.C. hand once told me to be weary of absolutes like never, always, everything, nothing. The truth is usually more complicated.

We're a large country and there's still common ground for us to stand on. So next time we're feeling that our democracy is toast, here are a few comforting counters to gently open the aperture a bit wider.

  • You know those stomach-turning medical bills from out-of-network providers that catch you completely off guard? Both parties thought that surprise medical billing was pretty lousy, and they passed a bill that became the law of the land in 2022 banning them. (And while we're on the subject, why not find out your rights if you get one of those terrible bills.)
  • Our compadres at the statehouse in Helena are tackling the affordable housing crisis by shaking up zoning, beefing up housing density, and creating more inclusive land use plans in a wildly bipartisan raft of laws known as the Montana Miracle.
  • Here in Maine, major bipartisan changes in our state's transportation funding model passed quietly last June. Not stealthily, mind you. But there was little press fanfare.
  • On April 21, 2021, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly was busy signing 26 bipartisan bills into law, ranging from financing for a state veterans home to egg repackaging to returning 10 acres of land to the Iowa Tribe of Kansas.
  • Over in Utah, a bill banning conversion therapy got unanimous bipartisan support and was signed into law by the Republican governor. Troy Williams, Executive Director of Equality Utah, put it best: “This is an extraordinary moment in Utah’s LGBTQ history...It is the first conversion therapy ban in the country to pass through both chambers unanimously.” The hugeness of this cannot be understated.
  • Plus, there's the Bipartisan Infrastructure law, and heaps of other cross-partisan bedfellows working on AM radio, railway safety, the opioid crisis, rural broadband, and more.

And now, let's take a moment to discuss fashion shows. Naturally.

There is a fascinating principle at work on the catwalks. Models stride down the runway in skirts that look like the box your microwave came in, shirts made out of PVC piping, pants that are enlarged piano keys.

The point, though, isn't that we're all supposed to wear these exquisite, if impractical, structures. Designers only have a few minutes to show the world what they're working on and, as fashion editor Vanessa Friedman wrote, "The fastest way to get an idea across is by exaggerating it."

That about sums up political rhetoric, doesn't it?

More headlines are clicked, more posts are shared, more pundits get employed when conflict is amplified, and, yes, sometimes even exaggerated. It's all designed to snatch our attention.

No question, our boat is in troubled waters right now. And as Arthur Miller wrote in Death of a Salesman, "Attention must be paid."

But a thoughtful attention. An attention that seeks out the whole truth, not just the clickable truth.

Folks working together has never been especially newsworthy. Rare is the headline, "Lawmakers have pleasant, productive time collaborating."

But we can remind ourselves, and others, too, that it does happen. Not only does it happen, but it can be core to how we navigate out of these troubled waters.

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