AD Main Menu

Our view: Obama invokes military example; Alaska offers one of its own

President Obama opened and closed his State of the Union message on Tuesday with the lessons provided by the U.S. military, many of whose men and women have been sorely tried in the last decade.

He particularly noted the success of Seal Team 6, the outfit that killed Osama bin Laden in a lightning-strike raid. Shortly after the president spoke, Seals struck again, freeing two hostages with an airborne raid in Somalia. That mission further drove the point home.

The president said Americans should learn to act with less regard to party and self-interest and more with an attitude of "I've got your back," people pulling together, doing their jobs for a common goal.

It's a good call. Cynics will say "good luck." After all, Boy Scouts salute but the smart money bets on spin and division and business as usual. Congress closes ranks around Gabrielle Giffords, then splits in a return to election-year politics.

But we have an example of working together right here, across party, philosophical and personal lines. You won't confuse them with a Seal team, but the Senate Bipartisan Working Group is in its sixth year of majority in the Alaska state Senate.

The group's creation was a practical, functional response to the will of Alaska's voters, who in 2006 elected a Senate evenly divided at 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. So most of the members decided a coalition would be the most effective way to work.

It hasn't been perfect, and these senators play politics like all of their colleagues, but the name they chose -- working group -- seems to reflect their attitude and method.

"All of us came into this wanting to bring out the best in each other," Sen. Johnny Ellis said Thursday. He said that since the group began, there have been no power plays.

"We work on a consensus basis."

That doesn't set well with true believers on either side of the aisle. One former state senator, Robin Taylor, once said that consensus building was the antithesis of leadership. Senate President Gary Stevens would disagree. He's guided a caucus of disparate interests fairly well and with grace under pressure.

Such a coalition is almost by definition moderate. But that doesn't mean lukewarm or ineffective. Right now the Senate has the lead on what Stevens calls the "elephant" in the room, oil tax legislation. He's made clear the Senate will keep that lead, while working with both Gov. Sean Parnell and the House to make sure that all parties have time to weigh in.

There's more than one way to bring out the best. Division, debate and conflict serve that purpose too. Americans and Alaskans always have had strong differences. That's why we have elections, to resolve them.

But when divisions stop all action, and poison relations so that cooperation becomes difficult or impossible, then perspective gets lost and democracy goes dysfunctional.

When that happens, it's hard to either make good law -- or rescue hostages.

The Senate seems to have kept its head and found a way to manage a 10-10 split that serves the state. Could be a good lesson there too.

BOTTOM LINE: Key word in Senate Bipartisan Working Group is working.