Try this recipe at a dinner party for fun: Mix Brits and Americans, married and single, gays and straights, conservatives and liberals. We had journalists, Intel specialists, a photographer, a physical trainer, a government employee, a CEO, a fiction writer, and a politician all seated at one table. Some were pro-choice, some not. Some were pro death sentences; others were against the death penalty in all cases. Throw in wine and good food and let the conversation go free. What do you get? A grand evening of raised voices, various ideas, strong opinions, and civility and friendship is the result if everyone remains civilized, and no personal attacks are made – only disagreement on issues.
The topics covered were: drone use, health care, who is the greatest American, seeing Mohammed Ali relieve himself in a potted palm in a D.C. hotel, and where to find a bar in Kabul. In other words, we ran the entire gamut of potential topics. What we discovered was very interesting. If the political leaders practiced this as a weekly exercise, we might have more accomplished in D.C.
Healthcare was one of the most discussed topics. Although there were very strong feelings pro and con on Obamacare, all did agree that the current system is flawed and needs to be repaired. The issues broke down into those who thought the law as written is greatly flawed and those who are willing to give it a chance and see what happens. No one changed their opinion, but a few were a great deal more educated as to some of the fine points and examples of who would and wouldn’t be covered.
Then there was the President’s speech from this week, which meant discussion of drones, foreign policy, the horrific attack in London, and terrorism in general. Again there were different opinions. Can Gitmo really be closed? Can the drone program really be restructured and still be as effective? Should we ever use drones? Is there really an ability to change the post 9/11 law and reduce the President’s war powers? The final view was we will have to wait and see if this White House can deliver any of the grand plans. All things considered, that the speech was one of the best the President has given if one is skeptical of the policies and results.
One of the most interesting phases of the dinner was the discussion of who was the greatest American. Many felt George Washington was the greatest since he led the country to independence and then turned down the crown that was offered to him. One vehemently disagreed because Washington had slaves. The fact that it was an accepted behavior in his time was not considered an acceptable excuse.
One of the best moments was when a Republican was asked by a Democrat what the Republicans can do to get back in the game and he responded that the party should emphasize what is probably America’s greatest asset — that one can rise from the delivery man to the CEO of a company faster and more easily than anywhere else in the world. When one disagreed saying he thought it was just as easy in places such as Norway, his wife stood and started singing “God Bless America” to get across her point that the U.S. was the best country. It certainly caused us all to laugh!
The point of the evening though was that 10 people with varying interests, beliefs and lives can exchange ideas and not make insults to people with other ideas. We can share, and with an effort, find the middle ground on any topic – or at least a way to compromise that most of us can support.
I’ll volunteer to cook if 10 leaders of the House and Senate are willing to try this recipe!
P.S. Next week I’ll give you all the recipes!