Tuesday, November 04, 2008

"Political Differences Cut Only So Deep..."

"Gratitude" is a dirty word in today's What-Have-You-Done-For-Me-Lately culture.

"Civility" is also a disappearing virtue as our undisciplined, self-centered and short-sighted society no longer values the effort involved in, or sees the long-term benefit of, Agreeing To Disagree.

No matter which candidate wins in today's US Presidential election, no matter what political party emerges on top or on the bottom, I will live in the hope that we have not fallen so far that we can't still learn to act as this fellow did, back in 1997. If one person can change for the better, I always take it as a sign that we all can..:

... By 7:30 we were on the road, and [John McCain] was reminiscing about his early political career. When he was elected to the House in 1982, he said, he was "a freshman right-wing Nazi." But his visceral hostility toward Democrats generally was quickly tempered by his tendency to see people as individuals and judge them that way.

He was taken in hand by Morris Udall, the Arizona congressman who was the liberal conscience of the Congress and a leading voice for reform. ...

"Mo reached out to me in 50 different ways," McCain recalled. "Right from the start, he'd say: 'I'm going to hold a press conference out in Phoenix. Why don't you join me?' All these journalists would show up to hear what Mo had to say. In the middle of it all, Mo would point to me and say, 'I'd like to hear John's views.' Well, hell, I didn't have any views. But I got up and learned and was introduced to the state."

Four years later, when McCain ran for and won Barry Goldwater's Senate seat, he said he felt his greatest debt of gratitude not to Goldwater—who had shunned him—but to Udall. "There's no way Mo could have been more wonderful," he says, "and there was no reason for him to be that way."

For the past few years, Udall has lain ill with Parkinson's disease in a veterans hospital in Northeast Washington, which is where we were heading. Every few weeks, McCain drives over to pay his respects. These days the trip is a ceremony, like going to church, only less pleasant. Udall is seldom conscious, and even then he shows no sign of recognition. ...

One wall of Udall's hospital room was cluttered with photos of his family back in Arizona; another bore a single photograph of Udall during his season with the Denver Nuggets, dribbling a basketball. Aside from a congressional seal glued to a door jamb, there was no indication what the man in the bed had done for his living. Beneath a torn gray blanket on a narrow hospital cot, Udall lay twisted and disfigured. No matter how many times McCain tapped him on the shoulder and called his name, his eyes remained shut.

A nurse entered and seemed surprised to find anyone there, and it wasn't long before I found out why: Almost no one visits anymore. In his time, which was not very long ago, Mo Udall was one of the most-sought-after men in the Democratic Party. Yet as he dies in a veterans hospital a few miles from the Capitol, he is visited regularly only by a single old political friend, John McCain. "He's not going to wake up this time," McCain said.

On the way out of the parking lot, McCain recalled what it was like to be a nobody called upon by a somebody. As he did, his voice acquired the same warmth that colored Russell Feingold's speech when he described the first call from John McCain. "When you called Feingold … " I started to ask him. But before I could, he interrupted. "Yeah," he says, "I thought of Mo." And then, for maybe the third time that morning, McCain spoke of how it affected him when Udall took him in hand. It was a simple act of affection and admiration, and for that reason it meant all the more to McCain. It was one man saying to another, We disagree in politics but not in life. It was one man saying to another, party political differences cut only so deep. Having made that step, they found much to agree upon and many useful ways to work together. This is the reason McCain keeps coming to see Udall even after Udall has lost his last shred of political influence.

The politics were never all that important.

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