Commentary: Breaking bread in Washington
Many so-called experts have offered their theories on why the Republicans and Democrats in congress never agree on anything and nothing gets done. The whole gridlock problem is not only frustrating and disgusting
─ it has shaped the entire presidential campaign with candidates promising to tear up agreements on the first day in office and refusing to cooperate no matter what.
What we really need is not another expert opinion, but the opinion of a non-expert living many miles away from Washington D.C., and that is what you will get right now.
I will suggest two solutions
─ both relating to seating arrangements in Washington. The Senate and the House of Representative both have the same seating arrangement problem. All the Democrats are seated on one side of the aisle and all the Republicans on the other side. If any member is seen on the wrong side of the aisle acting friendly with his or her political opposite (probably called a "foe" or "enemy") there can be serious consequences with the offender being called out as a traitor to the party. Loyalty to the party is considered more important than constitutional duties, civility and even more important at times than common sense.
The solution to that antagonistic seating arrangement is alphabetical seating. That’s right
─ eliminate the cursed aisle and seat everybody according to alphabetical order rather than political party. Yes, some Democrats and Republicans will have to sit next to one another and presumably talk to one another. Horrors! That could be a disaster. Nonsense ─ we already have a disaster.
Stories are told about how Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill would get together at the end of the day during the 1980s, have a friendly drink, and work out their differences. The word compromise wasn’t a political swear word at that time.
There may be a better solution than two guys having a drink together. That solution has to do with the Senate Dining Room and other capitol dining rooms. Pictures of the Senate Dining Room show small square tables that seat four, and larger round tables that seat six to eight. Do you suppose Democrats and Republicans ever sit with one another at those small tables? Rarely, I’m sure. Now think about seating arrangements at Thanksgiving, Christmas and church suppers among family members and friendly non-political neighbors. Those meals are not eaten in tight tables of four or eight but family style. So throw out those exclusive little tables in the Senate Dining Room and bring in some long family style tables big enough to ensure that some of those Democrats and Republicans who have to sit next to one another alphabetically on the Senate floor are also thrown together in the Dining Room. Yes, I’m proposing that long tables with politicians from opposite parties will find it impossible not to sit next to one another or across from one another, family style, and break bread together. How long can you eat with your enemy and remain enemies? Food pulls people together.
The most famous item on the Senate Dining Room menu is bean soup. It’s been on the menu for over 100 years. The soup is very basic: navy beans, ham stock and onions. The price has been $3.60 for a 16 ounce bowl since 2014 (sounds like a government subsidy doesn’t it?) The recipe in earlier years included celery, garlic, parsley and mashed potatoes (to satisfy a senator from Idaho). I expect that if Democrats and Republicans sat next to one another in the Senate Dining Room and discovered they both enjoyed the same bean soup, some of our nonsense in politics would disappear.
Our children have been at parties at school called, "mixers" where the games and projects require them to actually talk to a member of the opposite sex. Yes, they have been forced to study and socialize with someone unlike themselves. Do we have to arrange mixers where Democrats and Republicans are forced to talk to one another? Only if they behave like stubborn children.