Getting past the impasse of politics

Laurie Norton Moffatt is the head of the Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell has long been a symbol of the American spirit and Moffatt herself has been honored at the White House under several different presidents. Visiting the museum, you will see pictures that will make you weep, from an American worker up on a telephone pole repairing the line to a little African American child being led into a newly integrated school by four behemoth U.S. Marshalls.

As part of her plan to honor Norman Rockwell and his vision, Laurie has developed a series of Thursday evening events based on Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms.” The program is designed to bring people together in honest civil discourse. Laurie is no slouch when it comes to moderating these events. If someone has taken too long to make a point, she stands up and they know it’s time to wrap it up

I was delighted to participate in last Thursday’s program, called “A Nation Divided: Getting Past the Impasse.” We discussed ” Š how to find common ground despite our differences.” It was a freezing night but a nice crowd came out to participate. The speakers were quite good. Jim Bronson, the head of the Berkshire County Republican Association, spoke passionately about the problems with big government. He spoke of people accepting personal responsibility and he talked about his problems with those who might categorize Republicans as uncaring. His responsibility, he said, was to family, church and neighbors. He recently brought Charlie Baker, the Republican candidate for governor, to Berkshire County for an hour long television show.

While I got my five minutes, I tried to keep it political science focused. I wanted people to know that there were a number of reasons why we had come to loggerheads on contemporary issues. I pointed out that by allowing political parties to draw gerrymandered districts, we were rewarding the misbehavior of people like the Texas Republicans who reconfigured districts so that only they could win. I spoke of the primaries in which the super-convinced in each party turned out in small enough numbers so that it was no surprise that the Tea Party had been victorious in some races. Okay, okay, so I somehow used the word “wackos” in my remarks and that got a few people upset, which was the exact opposite of what was supposed to happen in the evening.

Sheila Murray is the head of the Berkshire Brigades in the county. It’s funny, the whole evening was dedicated to bringing people of varying political persuasions together but when the Democratic Party uses the name “Brigades,” I get the image of people marching off to war under flags. That might unite the true believers but it is hardly the kind of thing that will make the “purple people” in the middle excited about voting for you. I tend to vote Democratic but I think it’s a mistake for a party to name itself a “brigade.” Anyway, Ms. Murray is a good, disarming speaker who laid out the objectives of an egalitarian society quite nicely. She seems quite sensible to me and tomorrow she’s bringing all the Democratic candidates for governor together at the ITAM Lodge. Sounds like a good show to see them duking it out.

Also on the panel was a distinguished professor type, James Arpante, from Berkshire Community College, who talked about the Constitution and made the point that if our students knew more about government and civics, we would be a whole lot better off. He was articulate and his words were echoed many times by members of the audience who believed that civic education was the way to go. The audience appeared to be equally divided between Democrats and Republicans and I don’t think anyone’s mind was changed, but in the end, everyone behaved. It was great to see Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech” at work.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 1/26/14

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