At first glance, Alaska's Rep. Don Young and President Barack Obama don't seem to have much common ground. They've disagreed on many issues.
But to their credit, both President Obama and Rep. Young can put their feelings aside and work on common issues. This was brought home to me by Rep. Young's e-mail newsletter of February 5, 2009. The newsletter noted two areas of agreement with the President: Children's healthcare (SChip) and blocking the FAA's plan to move Alaskan engineers to Seattle. Rep. Young said:
"Secretary LaHood and I have long history of serving together in Congress, and I have great respect for him," said Rep. Young. "I am very optimistic about how the new administration is going to handle this issue. When President Obama was in the Senate, he opposed this consolidation effort by the FAA, and I trust that stance will continue into his Presidency.
"Those who have been trained and who work in Alaska are an incredible asset to our state, and I think it is a big mistake to relocate them. This consolidation means a loss of 50 jobs to our state and the loss of those trained specifically to deal with a state where air travel is the only means of transportation to 70% of the area. I strongly encourage the FAA to revisit this plan and carefully weigh the consequences of this consolidation, and consider the loss to the State of Alaska.
"I am hopeful and optimistic that Congress and the Administration will be able to bring the FAA back to the negotiating table with the Air Traffic Controllers, and negotiate their new contract in good faith."
These may not seem like major issues to you. But it is a helpful reminder that while someone may oppose you on some issues, you can still have a constructive approach together on other issues. All that is needed is a recognition that the other party is a person of good will - if only on that one issue. But if we throw up our hands and reject the idea of dealing with someone at all, then we make this country impossible to govern.
And the country would probably be better off if both parties focused more on where there is strong agreement among the American public and left more divisive issues for later. Some ideas on where to begin (or avoid for now) might be found on Public Agenda's Citizen Survival Guide page at http://www.publicagenda.org/citizen.