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The Rational Center | Commentary by John Zaring
| Tuesday, Dec 25, 2012

johnzaring2012Happy Holidays, everyone!

For those of you who join me in celebrating Christmas, I hope you awoke this morning to everything you wanted, and then some.

I’m writing this week’s column from my hometown of Reading, Penn., where the extended Zaring clan has gathered at the home of my 83-year-young mother for a little Christmas mirth and joy.  Even though Reading has devolved into a crime-plagued city with an uncertain future, there’s still nothing better than coming home for the holidays.

For a week or so each year at this time, my kids get to experience the smells, sights and local delicacies – such as cheese steaks and soft pretzels (REAL Philly pretzels, not those crappy mall imitations we have at the Valencia Town Center) – that I grew up enjoying, and of course, for me, there’s nothing better than finding ice-cold Yuengling Lager on draft in every corner bar, pub and restaurant I walk into.

And I don’t even really drink beer … too many calories to have to run off later. But that’s a whole other column.

Whatever you celebrate, the holidays bring us Americans together.  Gifts are exchanged between family and friends, friendships are renewed, familiar haunts visited, and family bonds strengthened.  And if your family is anything like mine, we don’t often agree on our politics.

My mother is a card-carrying Republican; her love of the GOP was forged under the party stalwart of the World War II generation: General-turned-President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  As president, Eisenhower was a pragmatist who believed in limited government and warned us all to “be wary of the military-industrial complex.”  Since then, she’s become part of the Fox News Army, her distrust of “liberals” fed on a daily basis by the ‘fair and balanced’ rhetoric of Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

Still, somehow, no matter how hard we try to stay away from the subject, the conversation inevitably drifts to politics.  When it does, it isn’t long before the holiday cheer is quickly replaced with holiday jeer, and far too often reaches a boiling point when dear mother drops her closing sentiment on us – something along the lines of, “I just don’t know where your father and I went wrong that we ended up with two Democrats as sons.”  This statement is often accompanied by a deep sigh, if not a groan, and then, “It’s sad you kids are so ignorant.”

This general sentiment has been uttered by many people in recent years in living rooms all across America.  Our country has become so polarized, so entrenched in ideology, that politics permeates everyday life.

Wars are waged on Facebook, with many friendships ruined by hurtful words uttered from the safety of a keyboard that would never be spoken in person.  We’ve accepted this as the “new normal,” servicing the idea that America is just a collection of red and blue states, when in reality our country is one big purple blob.

In truth, there are very few states where the citizens routinely elect one party over another – Montana is one, Vermont another, maybe Mississippi, too – but in reality, while there are congressional districts within most states that clearly tilt right or left, the statewide vote is more likely to be decided by fewer than 10 percentage points.

In Washington, almost nothing gets done.  But, you know what?  At my family’s holiday gatherings, we somehow get past our differences. We talk it out, like a family should, and at least try to understand each other’s perspective.  Yes, we sometimes agree to disagree, but more often than not, we are able to forge sort of mutual consensus through rational dialogue among reasonable people.

America’s politicians, regardless of party, could learn a few things from my family about getting along for the good of the group.  Perhaps as they sit around their own holiday tables today, they’ll be reminded that sometimes even the smartest person must get over him- or herself for the sake of progress.  America’s founders knew this when they wisely created a unique form of governance that requires principled compromise to succeed; yet today’s politicians seem to have clearly forgotten this concept.

In the spirit of holiday giving, let’s all give our representatives a call and let them know what we think about many things … the fiscal cliff (and everything it includes, such as tax reform, deficit reduction, spending cuts, welfare reform, etc.), immigration, the debt ceiling, the ban on assault weapons,  marriage equality, whatever.  Call even if you don’t agree with me, because if we want a government that is more responsive to us, they need to hear what we think.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, enjoy today.  For everyone else, Happy Holidays!

 

John Zaring describes himself as a reformed Republican turned moderate Democrat who believes democracy works best when its government actually functions because its leaders are working together. He serves on the Castaic Area Town Council’s Land Use Committee, Castaic Middle School’s Site Council, the Hart District’s WiSH Education Foundation, and he is the West Ranch High School representative on the Hart District’s Advisory Council. A self-proclaimed “New Democrat” a la Bill Clinton, he lives in Castaic with his wife of 21 years and their daughters, Fiona, 16, and Kylie, 12. His commentary publishes Tuesdays.

 

 

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