By Tom Lamia
Next week (as I write this) I start a five- or six-week residence in The West Village—a kind of forced exile from my farm in Maine—during the highlight of the year, midsummer. I will, of course, survive this absence and will return for the glories of fall and the changing of the color of the landscape, but I will miss being here during that best time when the days are long, the sun shines (mostly) and the air is cool, balmy and inviting.
In this last week of Maine reverie, my thoughts have drifted, dreamlike, to the future; to the path forward to a better place for all of us—to a harmonized working of our government and its politics. Specifically, my dream is of politicians finding the goodness within themselves to value principles above re-election prospects, and of voters finding the wisdom in valuing long-term goals and consequences over their personal and immediate fortunes and concerns.
I do realize that any realistic prospect for this, some might say utopian dream, must redirect a course of partisan dissension among us that now seems of such long standing as to be irreversible. I am going to look past that powerful historical fact and imagine, in my dream, small, realistic steps for the better.
First, that those directly involved in shaping and conducting government and politics might find a way to put into action the often-stated goal of working together to achieve consensus in crafting legislation and administering existing law. For this to happen, voters must be heard demanding dialogue, comity, and most of all, courage from legislators and candidates for office at every level. This requires a road map for voters to follow in conveying to parties and candidates that their votes will not be had by demonizing rival ideas, goals, parties or persons.
Second, those embedded in party politics must be held to account for draconian, divisive and disingenuous proposals and defensive rationales. The press has a role here—one that it has not been performing adequately. It is not acceptable for the press to be acting as partisans in their news coverage. Media outlets (newspapers, magazines, radio and television) reflect the views of their owners, of course, but they also have an obligation to the public and to their profession to inform without bias. Competition for eyeballs has become a powerful force in opposition to objectivity.
Third, it is highly unlikely that our current president, if re-elected, will implement my dream, so the Democratic nominee who emerges from the primaries and convention, now far off, must step up to effect a reversal of the present disastrous course; so my dream includes a nomination process in which the candidates show respect to one another, to the country and to all Americans so that the eventual nominee may be enthusiastically embraced and financially supported by all who seek a change in the presidency.
My dream is fantasy, of course, but it is one that I believe is widely shared. As a final element in my dream, between now and 2020, everyone will get enough REM sleep to be rational throughout the process.
In July (“We’ll See What Happens”) I neglected to mention that Lincoln’s vice president in his first term was Hannibal Hamlin of Maine. Hamlin missed being president by a few weeks in 1861 when Lincoln was assassinated. Maine was solidly Republican and would go for Lincoln with or without Hamlin on the ticket. But the Civil War was still being fought and Lincoln needed support from Democrats in border states, so he chose Andrew Johnson as his running mate. Johnson, of course, was later impeached for failing to support Lincoln’s Reconstruction policies. In my dream, Hannibal Hamlin succeeds Lincoln, the South is treated fairly but firmly and the Union is preserved as Lincoln intended.
In June (“The Past is History”) I mentioned Frank Wolf, my friend and colleague at the University of Mississippi. Frank is no longer serving in Congress. After 17 terms, he elected not to run again in 2014.