Tuesday, January 08, 2013

In Defense of Good Will

More than twenty years ago, Indiana Senator Richard Lugar, a Republican, spoke to a group of students about political partisanship and offered up the view that people can and should disagree vehemently.  But, the Senator said, as long as we are all "people of good will" the nation can always move beyond our disagreement toward compromises that lend themselves to successful governance.  I was among the students who heard that message many years ago.  At the time, I found the idea powerful.  In the years since I've never forgotten it.  These days, with partisan bickering the order of the day, it seems more fitting than ever.

For most of the years that I lived in Nebraska, Chuck Hagel was my Senator.  I never voted for him and with great regularity he took positions and cast Senate votes with which I disagreed.  Often, I sent him a letter to explain why he was wrong.  My letters were cordial and careful.  I never expected him to change his mind (and, to my knowledge, he never did).  But, in the spirit of good will, I shared my opinion with my Senator.  

Without fail, at every juncture, his staff responded to my communication with a gracious letter, thanking for me expressing my opinion, and encouraging me to continue to participate in the political discourse.  Over the years, I came to appreciate Senator Hagel's support of such discourse, even when our ideas were at odds.  And let's be clear: we were always at odds.

In the summer of 2002, as I was packing to leave Nebraska, I sent one last letter off to Senator Hagel.  I don't remember the issue, but I'm sure I was disagreeing with something he had said.  In that letter, I let the Senator's staff know that it would be my final communication as my family and I were moving to New Jersey.

When I arrived in New Jersey and got my phone hooked up, one of the first calls we received was from a staffer for Senator Hagel.  She had looked up my phone number and taken the time to call to express the Senator's best wishes for our life in our new home and his regret that my family and I had left Nebraska.  I have never forgotten that phone call, and the spirit that motivated it.  It was clear to me that the Senator was acting in the spirit of good will that I had long valued.

In the years since, I have continued to follow Senator Hagel's career.  When he came to question the wisdom of the Iraq war he had once supported, I respected his willingness to stand up and say as much.  Though I had never voted for him, I was sorry to see him leave the Senate.  I am delighted that President Obama has nominated Senator Hagel to be the nation's next Secretary of Defense.  I expect that Senator Hagel still has some views with which I disagree, but that's not really the point.  What is the point?  The point is that Senator Hagel is a man of good will.  I am confident that when he brings that skill to government service, we'll all benefit.  I hope the Senate confirms his nomination.

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