Civil tables

Valley Voice

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Civic clubs often meet at meal time for their business, and for most of them it’s to help others who could use a lift, especially the young ‒ help them over life’s early rugged landscapes, inspire them to be better people.

During meetings members make time for table conversation – chit-chat about their lives ‒ usually family, their outings, adventures, achievements.

The talk is rarely about politics: Washington is now a fruitless place and Topeka its unkempt cousin, and why get into that? Local events are another matter. A glimpse about town and county is reassuring, a direct relationship to shared purpose and steady gain. Local business seems well enough and without the festering bias that sours our capitals. Labels won’t stick for the ambulance medic, the pool lifeguard, the chip seal crew.

Club members are an agreeable mix. At the hint of politics, the table may hear a point, agreed or not. Smiles and shrugs are exchanged, they move on, opinions notched or tabled for further review. Their chief mission, unalloyed, is to improve circumstances for others who can use help.

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One wonders why it can’t be this way in Topeka or Washington. Perhaps it could, if those at our Capitols spent more time outside their own circle and at a shared table. They might reach across that “aisle” they once recalled so wistfully, and invite an adversary to have a meal, talk things over.

The era’s vaunted “social media,” fused into today’s heated political cultures, has consigned users to conflicting niches, capsules that feed their own concerns and exclude others’. The greater missions, matching public interests and needs, are often lost or buried.

In other times, Republicans and Democrats ‒ conservative, moderate, liberal ‒ could often be found together at tables in Topeka or Washington talking all matter of whatnot, including serious politics. In Washington, Nancy Kassebaum and Ted Kennedy were congenial third floor neighbors in the Russell Senate Office Building. In Topeka at the end of a long Statehouse day, Senate President Bud Burke (Republican) and House Speaker Marvin Barkis (Democrat) often could be seen descending the north stairway together, chatting amiably as they headed out the door. There was never a rule then that adversaries could not be civil, or understanding, or even friendly. That was decades ago.

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If Jerry Moran were spotted dining privately with Chuck Schumer, the leading Senate Democrat, the storm in Washington would be as though Moran were a police chief caught breaking bread with a fugitive axe murderer.

We no longer even hear the old odd claim that legislators sometimes “work out” together in the members’ gym or on a tennis court. Huffing and puffing on a treadmill or lunging after a forehand volley is not the manner of shared recess. It may be good for exchanging grunts, but it’s hardly relaxed conversation.

More vexing is the taboo on social intercourse in the halls of state and federal government. Tribal chieftains and party purists have put under suspicion any association with rivals. Some liken it to criminal behavior. This does nothing to advance an exchange of ideas. It does everything to create little confederacies, states of pro-stridence and anti-compromise. There is little room for interplay, almost no room for agreement.

It’s hardly fertile ground for good government. Rivals who meet to share their views and exchange ideas have breached no sacred covenant. Such behavior is not criminal, it’s healthy.

And like the shared table at a civic club, it’s good for the republic.

1 COMMENT

  1. Civic clubs had left my consciousness until I read this commentary. I miss them. They seem to be most meaningful and impactful in smaller communities. Thanks for the reminder.

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