The opening day of the NCTR conference we had Cokie and Steve Roberts as our keynote speakers. They are quite an interesting team. They have been married for 47 years and both have 40+ years working for news organizations specializing in politics. While our conference took place during the government shutdown, that was a topic that was at the forefront of their talk. At first I was just going to listen, but then I wanted to remember what I heard and started taking notes. I don’t know how well I’ll put my thoughts together, but I think my notes are worthwhile.
When addressing the current problems in Washington I found one of their responses quite interesting. Personal relationships are now out of the equation. Many politicians don’t move their families to Washington and therefore don’t interact at school, church and in the community. They don’t have kids that are friends with each other. They don’t share a cab with their political adversary. They’re not even friends.
As a teacher, I know that the way to get more out of my students is to forge personal relationships with them. I go to a game, I lend them a book, I find out about their families. I do the things that it takes to get to know them as individuals. Whether or not I like them doesn’t enter the equation. Once you get to know someone, you care for their well-being. Politicians aren’t doing this anymore. They used to be able to disagree in Congress and still respect each other and the work that they were doing. You used to see politicians from both sides of the aisle respect each other and their beliefs. This is definitely eroding.
The re-drawing of district lines is another thing that has contributed to the great divide. It is not done by an independent group. It is done by a party that is in power. We tend to live in areas of like-minded people. So when drawing the lines, they are drawn, keeping in mind the electorate and where there can be political strongholds. Democrats tend to live in urban areas and states that touch oceans. Also, traditional lines drawn tend to limit minority representation. When the districts aren’t drawn for competition, there is no reason for either party to work together if they don’t have to worry about getting re-elected. I can easily see how this is represented in my own state. There is no other explanation as to why Michele Bachmann has been re-elected so many times. The district that I live in is a virtual lock for our Democratic Congresswoman.
They also talked about the internet. Steve referred to it as the most extreme medium. “Anonymous comments breed incivility.” I’d have to agree. I purposely don’t read comments if I read an online article. A lot of the people commenting don’t have a sense of the bigger picture and really do have comments that aren’t civil. I can’t remember the statistic, but Steve quoted something about a large percentage of the public liked the idea of requiring the people commenting to have to use their name. Steve asked, “How do we get back to civil conversation?” Good question.
In the question and answer portion, someone asked Cokie about how things have changed since more women are in Congress. She said that women in the House and Senate tend to work and play better together in politics. They cross lines and work better especially on issues that affect women, families and children. They apparently have a monthly bipartisan dinner that is only women. Sounds like it’s needed!
The only other note that I have is that they mentioned when people feel un-welcome, it makes a difference. They were specifically talking about immigrants and young voters. This makes total sense. Think about when you didn’t feel welcome. How did it make you feel? Crappy, huh?
In this great country of ours it seems like we still have a lot of work to do. The bottom line, I think, is that we’re so consumed with ourselves and what is happening in our own lives, we forget about our neighbors and even our friends. We think that we are making connections because we know what is happening in our friends’ lives because we read it on Facebook. But really, how many close, personal relationships do you have? What are you doing to cultivate them? Do those people know that you care? We all need people in our lives that care about us. It’s those individual relationships that truly matter. I wonder if the politicians realize this?