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Friday, December 24, 2010

One Team

Last week Nancy and I visited Lincoln Center to hear the West Point Band playing Christmas and Hannukkah music with the New York Philharmonic Principal Brass Quintet. A marvelous performance of traditional holiday music from sparkling brass players and vocalists.

Just before the performance I met one of the West Point Band’s officers, thanked him for his service and then said, “As a former Navy person I offer my condolences for yesterday’s game on the gridiron in Philadelphia.”

Army lost to Navy 31-17 for ninth straight time, a record winning streak in this service rivalry.

He smiled broadly and then responded, “It’s all one team.”

All during the magnificent musical performances that followed this brief encounter I recalled players from the football game and announcements that this Navy quarter back would be serving on destroyers upon commissioning and that Army running back had signed up for infantry or this wide receiver would be assigned to field artillery.

Many of these cadets would be serving in Afghanistan before the end of next year, perhaps supported at sea by their navy comrades in arms.

Very sobering thoughts. Regardless of one’s political persuasion we pray for the life of each of these future officers and the enlisted who serve with them.

“One team.” That phrase kept resounding in my mind as I watched the lame-duck session struggle mightily, it seemed, to pass several major pieces of legislation—repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the huge tax bill; 9/11 first responders health and ratification of the New Start Treaty with Russia.

It seems as if politics has, indeed, changed since the last election. Democrats are working with Republicans to pass significant legislation. Somebody said, “We ought to bring them in for only six weeks and set them loose!” Has the era of Good Feelings returned?

Probably not. The hyper-partisanship that has characterized the political wrangling during the past year made me sick of the whole process for a while. It was worse than sausage making. It was like small boys in a schoolyard yelling and screaming at each other when they didn’t get exactly what they wanted, and that meant everything.

This lack of conversation across the aisles—the almost total grid-lock on the field of politics—this hyper-partisanship--led to the recent formation of a new movement called “No Labels” led by Republicans and Democrats.

But reason seemed to prevail during these last weeks, even though die-hards claimed “There’s no time. . .we’re not going to rush things.” Well, both sides passed significant legislation.

But where is the sense of “One Team” for 2011? I remember former Congressman Chris Shays, Republican of CT, saying he got up every morning realizing he served not only Republicans in his Bridgeport area district, but Democrats and Independents as well. There aren’t too many folks in Congress who reflect that spirit of attempting to solve America’s problems first, not working to ensure that President Obama serves only one term or to eliminate certain tax cuts.

“One Team” means that we think, for example, of the economy, the need to mount huge efforts to compete with the Chinese who have just invested almost 1 trillion dollars in new green energy. We must think not as ideologues from one party or another, but as Americans needing to solve a problem. Too often what passes for legislative problem-solving is acceding to the wishes of one’s political base to ensure re-election.

We think of what Senator John McCain said about what he would have done post 9/11: ask for “shared sacrifice.” Such sacrifices would mean that we think first about the best ways to deal with immigration policy and not about who are our campaign contributors and ideological soul-mates.

“One team” means that we realize that those men on the gridiron serve one nation, one America. We don’t ask them to pull the trigger in defense of Republicans or Democrats, the poor, or the middle class or the rich, but of all citizens.

Yes, we’ve had our divisions since the first Washington administration when you had Madison and Jefferson strongly disagreeing with the advice Hamilton was giving the President (see Madison and Jefferson, 2010 by Burstein and Isenburg) about building standing armies and assuming a large national debt. Political discourse became rather vituperative, accusatory and inflamed at times.

My fantasy is that one day I would be given 60 seconds to speak before a joint session of Congress. During this presentation I would mention McCain’s call for “shared sacrifice” from all Americans. Tell them of my parents’ many contributions during WWII (See “Mutual Sacifice” 11/23 below) —along with millions of other American citizens.

Then I would ask them for one week—even one day—to shed any semblance of party loyalty, forget their always imminent re-election campaigns and work diligently to solve the problems we face as men and women whose only allegiance is to all the voters in the country.

Be Chris Shays for one day, just one day!

Fantasy? Sheer fantasy. Yes, I know, but I keep rehearsing my lines.

The men and women from all of the military academies serve our country—we owe them our supportive acknowledgement that we are, indeed, “All one team.”

Peace for this holiday season!

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