By Tim Hayes
The hulking animated sheepdog, fur covering his eyes, strides on two feet up to the clock, punches his time card, and heads in to work on a bluff overlooking a meadow full of sheep.
“Morning, Ralph,” he mumbles to his co-worker, a harried coyote, also carrying a lunch pail and punching his card at the start of another day on the job. “Morning, Sam,” the hungry carnivore replies.
Once at their posts, they quickly get to work, Ralph devising exponentially more ridiculous Rube Goldberg contraptions to snatch a sheep or two for dinner, Sam calmly yet powerfully pounding the ever-loving daylights out of his partner at each attempt, until the whistle blows and they head home after another long day.
“See you tomorrow, Ralph.” “See you tomorrow, Sam.” The gospel according to Looney Tunes. While on the job, stand your ground, express your differences, fight things out. But outside the office, civility reigns.
As this presidential election heads to its climax, what a necessary reminder that is. For the next four years – regardless of who wins the big prize and gets to live in that big fancy white house – the same idea should hold just as true.
We got a wonderful example of this concept of “unity in diversity” last weekend at the dedication of the new Smithsonian National African American Museum of History and Culture in Washington, when former President George W. Bush (who approved funding of the project during his term) warmly accepted a hug from First Lady Michelle Obama. The smile of contentment, happiness, and affection on the former executive’s face matched that of Mrs. Obama, and its peaceful message quickly made headlines around the world.
We can – and should, and must – argue for our principles. We owe it to each other and future generations to hammer out the strongest, fairest, best ideas and ideals. Sometimes that disagreement gets heated. Sometimes a spirit of dialogue devolves into something considerably less noble. Sometimes it becomes obvious that it’s just not going to work out this time.
But that’s when deeper thinking must emerge, a vision that sees beyond the short-term battle toward a longer-term victory. That’s when compromise gets appreciated for its ability to give all sides a piece of the pie, but not the entire pie. And what’s wrong with that? Nobody should eat an entire pie alone, anyway. It’s unhealthy.
This “unity in diversity” thing goes beyond the theoretical, by the way. It used to happen in our national debates, and not all that long ago, either.
In his book, “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked,” TV host and political analyst Chris Matthews writes of the relationship between Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill and President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s – two men who could not have held more divergent political views and philosophies, but who knew how to offer respect and friendship outside of the legislative and policy wars regularly occurring within the District of Columbia.
Matthews writes of O’Neill and Reagan as “…old-school guys, only two years apart in age, who were so different yet not, on some level, that different – whose commitment to comity came out of their shared integrity. They disagreed on the role of government, knew it, admitted it face-to-face. But they put concentrated effort into trying to get along even as they challenged each other. Why, we wonder, can’t it be that way again?”
Legendary entertainer Dick Van Dyke, while starring in “Mary Poppins” during the early years of the politically turbulent 1960s, became friends with Walt Disney. By today’s calcified standards, Van Dyke, a dedicated left-wing liberal, and Disney, a hard-nosed staunch conservative, should have been at each other’s throats, a shared enmity and loathing bubbling just below the surface at all times.
But Van Dyke in his autobiography describes just the opposite. He recalls his friendship with Disney as one of the great relationships of his life. Each man knew the other’s political leanings, but that was no reason to not still be friends and create great art together.
They say 80 percent of voters always know ahead of time who will get their vote, 40 for one and 40 for the other, and they will not budge from that position. While the politicians try to sway that undecided 20 percent, wouldn’t it be nice if the 40-40 opponents took a page from Dick and Walt, Tip and the Gipper, George and Michelle, even Sam and Ralph?
It’s okay to hold strong opinions and to disagree. But it’s not okay to forget that we’re all Americans. We’re all due a level of respect and friendship. We’re all people sharing this world together. This election will be over in a few weeks. But being civil to each other, remaining friends with those who vote for the other candidate? That’s supposed to last a lot longer than a campaign.
Unity in diversity. Or, if you prefer, the gospel according to Looney Tunes.
Copyright 2016 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting