President Bush, in his new memoir “Decision Points,” wrote that the lowest point of his entire presidency was during Hurricane Katrina when Kanye West said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” It was a condemnatory remark, yet just the other day, Kanye said he can now “connect with [former President Bush] on a humanitarian level.” If they can find common ground following the aftermath of Katrina, surely we can find common ground in the aftermath of the midterm elections.
What changed for Kanye? He said that after he himself was publicly labeled a racist (following the Taylor Swift incident), he “definitely can understand the way [Bush] feels to be accused of being a racist in any way because the same thing happened to me.” That unlikely common ground, stumbled upon by a shared experience that awakened compassion, created the opportunity for the former adversaries to connect on a humanitarian level.
Now to the midterm elections. While there is some talk of common ground, it is generally denigrated as the forced concession of a loser (e.g. President Obama’s press conference, “Let’s Find Those Areas Where We Can Agree“). The big headlines often are the ones that make the case for divisiveness (“Obama in ‘denial’ about elections, Speaker of the House Boehner says” or “Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says the ‘top priority’ of the Republican party is to make President Obama a one-term president”). Never mind that there are interviews with these very same people that are far less incendiary. It’s not like politicians can’t all sit down and enjoy a beer summit together — it’s just that the vitriol seems to play better these days.
There was a glimpse of accidental humanity on election night when the new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, fought back tears, recounting how he spent his “whole life chasing the American Dream”. When Boehner tries to suppress his own experience, he denies the common ground he shares with so many of his colleagues who also worked their way up through humble beginnings in pursuit of the American Dream — including the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama. How different our politics would be if we were willing to honor our shared humanity above our differences.
An alternative narrative is always available. What about the possibility not of divisiveness or right and wrong, but of connecting on a “humanitarian level” and from that common ground coming together to solve the pressing problems of the day? Beer summits move over — it’s time for a humanitarian summit.