Rubel: Feeling Nostalgic For Politics Of Days Gone By

Dec 4, 2018

Commentary: The elderly couple in the matching sweaters looked like they had been plucked from central casting to play the roles of kindly grandparents.

His silver hair was still full, yet neatly trimmed, as was his beard. Both were a tad plump, but seemed to be healthy and happy. It was the sweaters that bothered me.

“Trump 2020” they said in large letters. Then, underneath in smaller letters, was the kicker – “Make the liberals cry again.”

As I listened to them speak cheerfully with the interviewer outside the Trump rally, it was hard for me to imagine that they would take pleasure in seeing anybody cry. But, those sweaters perfectly sum up where our politics is today. Aspirational goals and inspirational rhetoric are for suckers. Winner takes all, losers cry.

Last week, I read Stephanie Valencia’s chapter in the new book “West Wingers,” and it made me nostalgic. Valencia is an Oñate High graduate who went on to serve as a special assistant to President Barack Obama. She is one of 18 former Obama staffers to write about their experiences in the book. Then, on Friday, former President George H.W. Bush died, and it made me even more nostalgic. I was reminded of the note Bush left in the Oval Office desk for Bill Clinton. It closes with this:

“You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.

Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.”

Bush was the only president among our last five to be denied a second term by the voters. He lost to Clinton following a tough, hard-fought election. And yet, there is not a trace of bitterness in his note.

“I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described,” Bush wrote.

Later, after both men were out of office, Bush and Clinton developed a real friendship after they has been tasked by then-President George W. Bush to lead a relief effort following a deadly tsunami in the Indian Ocean.

The danger with nostalgia is that we tend to remember things more fondly than they really were. I didn’t vote for either of the Bushes. I voted for Clinton the first time, then regretted it. I am not suggesting that the respect and collegiality they showed for each other made them great leaders.

Sun-News columnist Algernon D’Ammassa notes in his piece last week that compromise is a means, not an end. It does not ensure positive results. Our nation’s history is filled with examples of our leaders compromising their way to some truly horrific decisions.

But our system of government requires two things to be successful. Both sides must agree starting out as to what the goal is, then must be willing to compromise in order to achieve that goal.

When the goal starting out is to make the other side cry, we’re all in trouble.

Walter Rubel is editorial page editor of the Sun-News. He can be reached at