By Amy Julia Becker
"Use your words.
"You can't always get what you want."
"Take a minute to think about it, and then tell me the truth."
"Remember to share."
"Instead of grabbing, please ask nicely."
I repeat these phrases throughout the day, pretty much every day. I want my children to learn how to be kind to one another, how to think about other people's needs in addition to their own, and how to work out problems. I want them to know how to compromise.
As I watched the second Presidential debate on Tuesday night, I wondered whether President Obama and Governor Romney remembered the lessons their parents had taught them in their early years. The debate heated up at times, with each man accusing the other of misleading or untrue assertions. They interrupted each other. They raised their voices. They gave us reasons to be disappointed. NPR called it a "town brawl" instead of a "town hall" meeting. According to the New York Times, both men exaggerated or misrepresented the other's position (or flat out lied). And yet I also suspect that these men--both pragmatic leaders with track records of centrist positions and a willingness to work with the opposition (Romney in Massachusetts, Obama as President)—would both be willing to compromise, to work it out civilly. If we still had a system in which the loser of the Presidential contest became Vice President, I could imagine it working out between these two.
When it comes to civil government and common courtesy, it's not Obama or Romney who need reminders. The people who need a reminder of putting the common good ahead of self-preservation, a reminder of compromise, a reminder of telling the truth and sharing, are our representatives serving in Congress.
President Obama, as he stated in the debate, inherited a mess. The economy was headed towards depression. The unemployment rate was on the rise. The deficit had soared as a result of fighting two unfunded wars. And Obama was prepared to tackle the problems through centrist solutions. He reached out to the Republican opposition. He advanced a health care plan based upon the conservative Heritage Foundation's proposal (which, incidentally, served as Governor Romney's blueprint for health care in Massachusetts as well). He initiated conversations about tax cuts for the middle class, a return to Clinton-era tax rates on the wealthiest individuals, and reductions in spending. He tried to pave a middle way.
And then the Republican opposition forgot what they had learned as little children. Instead of deciding that their job as elected officials was to serve the people of this nation, they decided to serve themselves. They decided that their primary goal was to defeat Obama. They worried that compromise would make him look good. They assumed that economic change that benefited us all would ensure his reelection. And so they nearly shut down our government on multiple occasions.
As an independent voter with moderate views on both social and economic policy, I believe the best situation for our country is one in which the President and the majority in Congress come from opposing sides of the aisle. At least in theory, this scenario forces compromise, forces each party to give and take, to listen, to allow the ideas that serve all people to rise to the top. Instead, the Republicans have decided to take their toys and go home, and our nation has continued to wallow in a place of high unemployment, low growth, and increasing poverty.
Whoever wins this election is probably going to be lauded as a great leader, simply because the economy is poised to turn around no matter who holds the highest office in the land. But the mark of true and meaningful leadership in the service of our nation will come only if our president—whomever he may be—can figure out how to bring our nation back to a place where Republicans and Democrats alike can sacrifice their party's ideology for the common good of the American people. If only our leaders could remember those basic lessons we try to teach our children every day.