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Mamma’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Politicians

Meeting or working with red-state politicians is always something I thoroughly enjoy, especially when they happen to be Democrats.  I’m not sure what exactly fuels this desire, certainly not ideology considering that I am often times way further to the left of them on a whole variety of issues.  I assume it mostly stems from being an Oklahoman and despite not residing in the state permanently all the time, I have always been very proud of where I come from.  Part of the excitement I assume would be simply interacting with someone that I consider more like myself.  It could be simply the desire and comfort from knowing exactly where someone comes from and why they think like they do, even if you don’t always agree with them.  You don’t have to agree with someone to understand them or comprehend the motivations behind their beliefs.  Politicians who fail to make an effort to understand each other or even communicate outside of press releases and focus-group-tested talking points continues to make our country more polarized.  Although I haven’t experienced it, there was a time when our leaders were first and foremost Americans, not Democrats or Republicans.   People talked, compromised, and often times even liked each other personally, getting their families together for dinner hours after opposing each other in heated debate.  I often wonder if it’s even possible to get back to that place and when exactly it all started to go wrong.

Knowing why someone is the way they are, understanding them, or even making an effort to do so, are qualities that are tragically gone in politics today.  I am a huge fan of msnbc’s Chris Matthews and devour every book he releases.  I recently finished Tip and the Gipper, a great read.  The core content focused on the working relationship between President Ronald Raegan, the movie star turned California Governor and eventually President and House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a blue collar Massachusetts politician who, despite obstacles, finessed his way to the top office in the US House of Representatives.  These two men, who were larger than life, were the leaders of their parties, opposed each other regularly, and came into politics in different ways, yet despite being so different, found common ground and made government work.  They were able to do these things, in a large part thanks to the moderates who helped strike the compromise and pass the legislation – the Southern Democrat or New England Republican.  They call the conservative Democrat a blue-dog, a title that I often see certain colleagues cringe upon hearing.  As tacky as this may seem, every time I hear someone decry the blue-dog because of his effort to preserve a worthy aspect of his culture I always think of the lyric from Mama’s Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys: “them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him. He ain’t wrong he’s just different but his pride won’t let him do things that make you think he’s right.”

It’s so easy to villiainize the other side and focus only on differences rather than attempting to understand the actual person.   Now, it seems every election cycle that the few moderates that are left, the Mark Pryor’s and Kay Hagan’s, are deemed “most vulnerable” and millions pour in from outside their states in an effort to unseat them by painting them as radicals.  Folks like Senator Pryor are of dying breed.  It’s true that they do wear a party letter after their name but first and foremost they do what’s best for their district or state and country.  They are now the old-timers.  They are sprinkled throughout the Congress as the final reminder of a time when things were different, a time when things were accomplished, before the Koch Brothers, before Soros, the olden days when men like Speaker Carl Albert, a poor boy from rural Oklahoma could be a Democrat, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and still have an ideology that wasn’t always ‘party-line’, instead it reflected who he was and where he came from.

Despite all the fuss over conservative Democrats, and despite my occasional frustrations when they don’t tote the party line on votes where they make a difference, I still take comfort in the fact that these folks exist. It can’t simply be a coincidence that when Congress has more moderates, more common ground is reached, things get accomplished and government moves forward with its intended purpose; service to the American people.  What’s going to happen when these folks are gone?  If we stay on our current path one thing will be certain, generations from now, in the obituary of the United States of America, history will note that politicians put ideology over service, advancing their agenda over the common good, politics over country.  At this point, it won’t matter what Rush Limbaugh’s rant accomplished, that Ted Cruz stood firm against food stamps, who outfoxed whom or what party has the most favorability – these issues are often placed to wayside when an industrialized country falls to shambles and global chaos and warfare ensue.  At this point even reading Green Eggs and Ham won’t be enough to halt the inevitable.

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