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Where you stand depends on where you sit

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. closeup...Image via Wikipedia

In Congress, the Democrats sit on one side and the Republicans sit on the other. Is it any wonder that the parties don't get along? Or that they lack the resolve and unity of purpose to find common solutions to our nation's huge problems?

Without a doubt, as Joe Reeder, a Washington lawyer and former assistant secretary of the Army, describes in his article, Break Up the Parties, "this segmented seating arrangement shelters our representatives from opposing points of view, reduces the need for common courtesy, reinforces the worst tendencies of a two-party system, and undermines efforts at cooperation."

Being physically and emotionally separated by party intensifies the partisan rancor that's innately alive.

What if, instead of being seated by party, representatives were seated alphabetically? You know, like you and I were seated in grade school. So the first half of fifth grade, I got to sit between Betty Oman and Bobbie Richards and the second half, Sarah Peters and Tony Quinlin. Is it any wonder that I still remember what all four brought for their lunches and if they had cats or dogs as pets. I got to know them. Intimately. And how they thought about things and what they dreamed about. And I learned how to get along with them, sitting two feet from them for eight hours a day, for four or five months at a stretch.

Is it just me, or is this a no-brainer? Mix up the members of Congress! If not alphabetically, then by birth date, or state, or by drawing names out of a hat.

But not by party.

Having assigned seating in grade school obviously doesn't eliminate all the squabbling, but letting kids sit only with kids they like certainly would not allow for learning civility, respect for differences, collaboration and compromise.

We know that without communication, trust and mutual respect, relationships won't be very strong. And without strong relationships, there won't be a spirit of unity toward a common purpose. And without a strong sense of unity, you won't have a strong team, organization, community or country. What if something as simple as a neutral seating chart for Congress eventually led to civility and bipartisan action?

One-on-one relationships are the key. Whether in grade school, corporate America or Congress. As Joan Baez said, "The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one."

One person relating with another, like Betty Oman and Bobbie Richards. And Bruce Braley and Steve King.

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Right on Shirley. I agree with you 100%.


Such a wonderful point. That's one of the reasons why I think professional associations are so vital. It allows competitors to get to know each other in a safe and cooperative setting.

In the end, that's better for everyone.


There is a new movement in our country on reseating Congress based on some characteristic other than party affiliation. I read with interest an article by Joe Reeder (AARP Bulletin, May 1, 2010) and could not agree more.

The current power of our two political parties and the battle between them is creating a constitutional crisis in this country.

The founders relied on a system of checks and balances between the branches of government to prevent a consolidation of power that might endanger our Bill of Rights and the American freedoms we hold dear. This system assumed one very important requirement: the persons elected to federal office would consider their highest allegiance to be to the United States of America. Each member of the federal government takes an oath to this effect.

Unfortunately, the current rise of the power of the parties nullifies this assumption. Our representatives still take an oath, but in reality we see their allegiance to their party is greater than their allegiance to their country! Our representatives stick to their "speaking points" instead of studying issues and working together to compromise and do the work of all the people.

Our government used to take small steps toward a common good. Now we take huge swings because the art of compromise has been lost. There is no "give a little, get a little" common sense in our government or in our own sense of community. The winner takes all attitude only results in disappointment for the vast majority of citizens.

I agree completely with the reseating of Congress. I recommend going a few steps further:

• Insist that the media remove the "R" or "D" from all elected officials' names (at all levels of government). Each one is an American working for all of us.
• Ask all candidates if they are willing to change the rules of their institution to remove the power of the parties within that institution. Ask them to take a pledge:

"As an elected official, I will speak for, and to, all members of my constituency. I will not label myself or my office with any partisan indicators. I will explain my policy positions as I see them, not as I am instructed to do by any party or lobby."

If you think about it, the two political parties are giant lobbying efforts and should be subject to our laws on the behavior of lobbyists. The money involved in the political process is buying the common sense out of our elected representatives. We elect good, thinking people to office, but they are restricted from working together to solve problems by the two "legal" lobbies that are fighting. Until we take the money out of our elections, we will continue to destroy our cherished institutions and form of government.

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