When Politics Worked

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I’ve been writing columns for the Newport Beach Independent since 2011. My appearance back then caused a few readers to write in and complain what a “liberal rag” the paper was becoming. It was ironic in some ways because the editor at the time, Roger Bloom, was concerned he had too many conservative voices on the pages of the Forum and he wanted more balance.

A couple of my early columns focused on the growing polarity of politics in both Washington and Sacramento. Given my liberal bent, nobody should be surprised that I took aim at the intransigence of the other side.

The headline for this column is actually the title of MSNBC host Chris Matthew’s latest book. Matthews was Administrative Assistant to House Speaker Tip O’Neill during the early days of the Reagan presidency. Matthews wrote the book to show how two political opposites, O’Neill and Reagan, nevertheless managed to get things done in Washington. Matthews does not claim either side had to compromise their principals to move the legislative agenda forward, but, by respecting the other side, they kept things moving.

I found one anecdote particularly interesting. When Reagan’s top lobbyist, Max Friedersdorf, asked O’Neill’s support in getting the debt ceiling raised, O’Neill “made a simple request. He wanted Max Friedersdorf to relay back to his boss precisely what the deal would be, which was   a personal note from the president to each and every Democratic member of the House asking for his or her support. Friedersdorf agreed on the spot and carried the message back to Reagan. The asked-for letters arrived the next day—all 243 of them.

The measure could not pass without some Democrat votes, and the purpose of the letters was to give the Democrats some cover back in their districts for supporting a Republican president’s request to raise the debt ceiling.

The measure passed quickly without threats of a government shutdown and without embarrassing amendments that had nothing to do with the debt ceiling.

One reason for my interest in the anecdote is that I have known Max for the past ten years. He and his wife Priscilla have been guests at our house the past couple of years for Thanksgiving dinner. Despite my liberal bent, we get along just fine and agree that it would be nice to see a little more civility in politics.

Now, if I only can get the same sentiments reflected in the letters to the editor.

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