I tend to see the world through a pragmatic, people-based lens. Some might call me a progressive, but I think in terms of ensuring a better future for the most people possible.
I live in a community and region where historical conservatism is much more prevalent. Living in a place where my issues-based thought doesn’t always align with that of my neighbors and colleagues has allowed me to build relationships based on values instead of issues. The values we share are so much stronger than the issues on which we differ.
As a statement of values, I believe that most of my neighbors would agree that people should have a basic level of health care without facing financial ruin. I believe that most of my neighbors love spending time on Lake Michigan beaches and keeping that amazing resource clean and useable. This is essential to maintain our West Michigan way of life.
The school district in which my three children have attended school for the past 11 years and for which I serve as secretary of the Board of Education has some of the best outcomes of any district in the state. I trust that most of my fellow parents would wish for this success to continue and for all children, irrespective of their ZIP code, to enjoy such success.
The acceptance of a set of shared values is what is lost today relative to a not-so-long-ago past in this region and in this nation.
I recently saw a story about departed Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia and current Justice Ruth Bader-Ginsberg. They came into the Supreme Court in 1986 and 1993, respectively. They could not have been further apart on issues than any two justices serving during their joint tenures, but they both had a deep love for this country and a deep respect for the Constitution. For this shared love of law and country, they had a deep respect for one another. They often spent time together socially and never criticized one another personally for their differences of opinion. Their dissenting opinions about the other’s rulings were scathing, but rooted in their interpretation of the Constitution and not on their opinion of the other person.
Closer to home, West Michigan is proud of the legacy of our 38th President Gerald Ford. Ford was known for relationship building, and it is telling that the inscription on a statue of Ford in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda is from a Democrat, former Speaker of the House Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill. It reads, “God has been good to America, especially during difficult times. At the time of the Civil War, he gave us Abraham Lincoln. And at the time of Watergate, he gave us Gerald Ford — the right man at the right time who was able to put our nation back together again.”
Ford served in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly a quarter-century until he was appointed vice president in 1973. While in the House, he supported foreign aid championed by President Kennedy. In August 1974, he assumed the presidency, and in his first address to Congress he urged lawmakers to approve a National Health Insurance Bill that had similarities to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A compromise bill between Ford and Sen. Edward “Ted” Kennedy was in the works when outside forces resulted in the collapse of the initiative.
Some 40 decades later, a Republican majority has staked their reputations on repeal of the ACA, and has divided our country on this single issue. Ford believed that health care was too expensive and that too many people were without insurance. Surely in this time of exploding health care costs and historical income inequality, we can come together to figure out how to get a basic level of health care to all Americans.
President Ford signed into law the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), but our current secretary of education has such an unyielding, one-sided view of education that she wasn’t even aware of the law when giving testimony to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Ford had reservations about the ability of the federal government to uphold its obligations under the law, but he signed it in 1975 signaling his acceptance of the importance of its intent and the desire to improve the law over time.
At a time when litmus test after litmus test on issues defines an individual’s ability to get elected, the pressure of extreme partisanship continues during their term in government. The desire by some to be elected and follow the polls rather than lead has left our nation in a standstill on critical issues like health care, education, the environment and immigration.
A renaissance of bipartisanship in the face of extreme views is needed for our country and mandated by the shared values of its people. Let us look forward to our shared success and prosperity by looking back at the successes of our past.
— By Rob Davidson, Tribune community columnist