One of my favorite cartoons as a youth (and dare I say even today) was the Warner Bros.' cartoon involving the coyote and sheepdog.
These two antagonists would cordially greet each other, exchanging pleasantries before beginning their day. In one installment they were actually roommates.
But each episode began with:
"Good morning, Sam!"
The coyote was on a mission to steal sheep, while the sheepdog served as their protector.
As soon as the clock struck 8 a.m., they assumed their respective roles -- enemies to the end.
The coyote devised ingenious and idiotic methods to steal sheep, while the sheepdog holding to his principles, often times in a rather clumsy fashion, foiled the coyote's attempts.
On one occasion, the coyote sneaking up on an unsuspecting sheepdog, set up a Guillotine, guns, crossbows, cannons, a nuclear arsenal, the cliff where the sheepdog sat was rigged, and a pool of hungry crocodiles waited at the bottom.
Just as the coyote was about to pull the master switch, the 5 p.m. whistle rang, and the day was over.
As the two clocked out, the sheepdog said, "Better luck next time, Ralph."
"You can't win them all Sam," the coyote replied.
The scene concludes with them walking home together.
I recall this memory from my youth because it is reminiscent of how things used to work in Congress -- the acrimony usually concluded at the end of the day.
But Congress today has the congeniality of the Hatfield and McCoy feud. The Senate, once thought to be the saucer that cools the hot broth of the House, bears little difference.
And just like the infamous Hatfield-McCoy feud, the culprit for the current political animosity depends greatly on who tells the story.
Was it House Democrats and their 42-year majority, treating the Republican minority like the second-class stepchild? Or was it the subsequent arrogance displayed by the Republican Party, when they reclaimed the House in 1994 and in their attempts to create a permanent majority?
Who's at fault is not as important as what's being done to end the gridlock that is increasingly becoming a mainstay on Capitol Hill.
So as President Barack Obama prepares for the State of the Union address, I welcome members of opposing parties agreeing to sit next to each other -- not exactly Lyndon Johnson and Everett Dirksen working to pass civil rights legislation, but it's a start.
Is it possible that Democrats and Republicans can be diametrically opposed in theory, but find ways to compromise? But the failure to compromise ultimately translates into the inability to trust.
One of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy's best friends in Congress was Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. On the surface, the liberal lion from Massachusetts would appear to have nothing in common with his conservative colleague from the Beehive state.
When Tip O'Neil was speaker, his opposition to the policies of President Ronald Reagan was well documented. But, at the end of the day, they transformed into two Irishmen who loved to tell stories over a drink.
It feels Capitol Hill today has sociologically regressed into a segregationist atmosphere. Just as it was not permissible for blacks and whites to openly have an authentic friendship in the Jim Crow South, it seems equally discouraged for many Democrats and Republicans.
It obviously will take more than Democrats and Republicans occupying adjoining seats at the State of the Union address to create any noticeable change. It will require that members of Congress get to know each other beyond the stereotypes they've created.
I don't simply mean, speaking to each other while passing in the hall or going out for an occasional dinner. Conservative House members need to visit the districts of their liberal counterparts and vice versa. Likewise, red state and blue state senators should hold town hall meetings together.
Don't members of Congress owe it to each other and the American people to add the perspective of those with whom they disagree when addressing the county's major issues?
The complexity of challenges that confront this nation require more than the strict adherence to a political ideology -- such thinking arrogantly suggest the truth lies only in an individual's orthodoxy.
If all else fails, can the both sides at least sit down for a cartoon night to observe how the coyote and sheepdog manage to work through their differences?
Byron Williams is an Oakland pastor and syndicated columnist. He is the author of Strip Mall Patriotism: Moral Reflections of the Iraq War. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit his Web site byronspeaks.com
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