Orrin and Ted and Hope for the New Year

Thinking about the coming new year, which, like every year, is born amid a blending of hopefulness and concern for what lies ahead, I find myself listening once again to a favorite radio interview. Now more than five years old, it’s an interview with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch that appeared on National Public Radio on the death of Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy.

Unless you’re a dedicated Congress watcher, you may not know that the two U.S. Senate icons from opposite sides of the aisle were also dear friends. That’s right. In the anger machine that has become U.S. politics in recent years, you might find it impossible to imagine a time when heavyweights like The Liberal Lion and the Mormon conservative could be, at once, their respective party’s champions for diametrically opposing views of government and close friends.

Legend has it that the Utah Senator had come to Washington three decades earlier with one goal: to fight Ted Kennedy. And fight they did, as Hatch recalled: “tooth and tongue, but afterwards we’d put our arms around each other and laugh about it.” Sen. Hatch goes on to say, “We passed a lot of very important legislation together, and I will greatly miss him.”

Already, I can see eyes rolling and hear the harrumphs of readers on the left and right bemoaning that the problem with that generation of politicians was that they were too willing to compromise. Another way to look at it is this: When people treat one another with respect and try to understand one another’s perspectives, they stop trying to steamroll each other and they start working on solutions. Maybe even become friends.

Today, a spirit of shared purpose has trouble competing with “winner-take-all gotcha.” We’d rather be angry and get nothing done.

Maybe it’s just the times we inhabit. I remember the conversations of my elders, and how sometimes minds were changed—or at least expanded—from time to time through genuine dialogue. Even my father, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal Catholic union guy, might nod his head and say, “I see what you’re saying,” when someone said something that if I’d said it I would have gone to bed without supper.

That’s why I like listening to Sen. Hatch’s interview each year in the waning days of December. It reminds me that we don’t have to compromise our principles just to find compromise to a challenge.

It’s why every year my New Year’s Resolution is to be a better listener; the Hatch interview cheers me on. I always fail, usually miserably, before January has passed, but I haven’t yet given up hope!

Whatever your resolutions for 2015, wishing you success, prosperity, joyfulness, and friendships with people who are different from you.

—From all of us at The Observer of Clarke County.

If you’d like to listen to Sen. Hatch’s interview, visit http://tinyurl.com/m2o6to or search at npr.org.