I’m severely frustrated with our elected leaders. I watch the news, hear politicians espousing their views, and shake my head in disbelief. Of course, what I’m thinking is said publicly by opposing politicians, and the debate is ratcheted up a notch or two. In the process of expressing views, both sides question the character and ethics of those who disagree. They get so riled up with each other that their talking points are no longer limited to the initial topic of disagreement. I keep expecting juvenile namecalling to break out—”Oh, yeah, well you’re a doody head”—and a food fight to break out in the Senate cafeteria.

We are so polarized; can we ever work together again?

I think there’s still hope, but it won’t be easy. Opposing sides can work together. It’s happened before, and it can happen again. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog [Are We Fighting the Wrong Enemy?] about the unusual makeup of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, but let me mention an example from Congress.

In the early days of America’s involvement in World War II, a junior senator was concerned about graft in the military and pushed for an investigation into the country’s defense program. FDR was not keen on the plans of this upstart senator; after all, a meddling Congress gave Lincoln nothing but problems during the Civil War, and FDR didn’t need that on his watch. But the senator pushed hard and got what he wanted.

The Senator was given money, he formed a committee, and they got to work quickly. Whenever they encountered graft, corruption, or profiteering, they sent the report to the offending party first, giving them an opportunity to respond before the report went public. They interviewed 1800 witnesses, conducted 432 public hearings, and issued 51 reports.

One of the great things about this committee was its makeup: both Republicans and Democrats. The junior Senator leading this group kept them focused. There was no political agenda, no grandstanding, and no using this as a platform for personal gain. Their focus was working together to get at the truth.

Truman Committee, 1943

Did it work? In all 51 reports, the Republicans never felt a need to issue a minority report. Both sides worked together.

If a politician really wants to make a difference, he or she must find a way for both sides to truly work together. It worked for an unknown senator named Harry Truman. The Truman Committee saved the government $15 billion and showed a bi-partisan group can work together amicably.

Opposing sides can work together. Don’t write me off as naive. We’ve got serious points of contention—health care reform, abortion, immigration, the proper spelling of dooty head—but can we find someplace to start where we can talk civilly without hiring teenagers to toilet paper each other’s houses?

Some days I think we can. But those days are becoming fewer and fewer.

We could use another Harry Truman.

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