I don’t mean a dinner with you or me or a stranger off the street, although that wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world.
There are 52 weeks in a year
True enough. And there are, give or take one or two, fifty Republican and fifty Democrat Senators. An idea forming somewhere in the back of your mind?
Yeah, why not?
This is not a new idea
This very thing was a habit for Senator and then President Lyndon Johnson. He made it his business to have dinner nearly very night with a politician who disagreed with him. It was extremely powerful and effective for him to meet with his adversaries over a meal and wine, maybe a highball or two (bourbon and branch-water). Not in some damned restaurant where each was recognized and had to play their part, but in a private dining room where all the masks came off and tone of voice was an easy test of sincerity.
Dining is an intimate occasion
That might sound somewhat surprising to say, but it’s true if that meal is taken with a single other person, friend or foe. The sharing of food is the setting aside of weapons, the sharing of drink the setting aside of prejudice, if only for the moment and it need not be alcohol, tomato juice will do just fine.
Lyndon knew this and he was a powerful man, both politically and as a speaker. But he was also a deep and thoughtful listener, a man unaccustomed to planning his next words as someone else was speaking. Yes, he heard you and because he heard you, his response struck you deeply. All of a sudden, this most powerful and intimidating man became intimate.
Interesting, isn’t it, how different the words intimidating and intimate are?—and yet how rooted they are to one another.
But Lyndon Johnson got stuff done
Put aside the horrors of Vietnam and his mistakes, where he was lied to by his Secretary of State and his generals. That killed him inside and destroyed his declining years. But in a time of great division across the nation, he was able to put together and pass the Great Society legislation. That took great persuasion and was bought at considerable political cost.
Johnson was a Southern Democrat at a time when his party sat firmly in control of largely racist southern states. When he signed the legislation he remarked, “there goes the south for Democrats forever.”
There is no government institution more politically divided than the United States Senate
In the ‘one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind’ sense, picture in your mind Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell agreeing to institute a Senate tradition of each Republican member having dinner once a year with each Democrat member—and vice versa.
What a game-changer that might be if those dinners were private and the only rule was to keep teeth unclenched and chewing. If they do not already exist, would that not be a wonderful reason to establish two intimately small Senate dining rooms for just that purpose? They would be in use fifty weeks of the year.
The steaks might well be medium or well-done, but the conversation would be rare.
Come now, Chuck and Mitch—just one giant step for mankind when we need it most.
Photo credit: H. Armstrong Roberts