The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 11, 2012

Sullivan: ‘Kumbaya’ may be good idea

By John T. Sullivan Jr.

— At a Christmas cocktail party recently, I made the mistake of trying to find common ground with a fellow I did not know, and who was still very angry about the election result, and would hear none of my attempts to try to find common ground with him.

Once he learned that I am a fan of MSNBC, that was it. Nothing but ire, contempt and vituperation. He even accused me of trying to have us sing “Kumbaya.” Not a bad idea. I grew up in the tradition of hearing folk songs that brought us together, and lifted us up to a noble purpose. I suspect he did, too. Where did we get lost along the way?

When I got home, I tried to type ‘Kumbaya’ on my iPhone, and it came up “Limbaugh.” It must be the iPhone recognizes Limbaugh but not the song. What’s wrong with this picture?

Personally, I think when we ended the Fairness Doctrine during the Reagan era, which ushered in the likes of Rush Limbaugh et al, that is when we started going to hell in a political handbasket. We stopped communicating and started yelling at each other. Snide commentary and negative polarizing rhetoric became the norm on daytime talk radio, and invective and vituperation began to replace peace and harmony. Personally, I think we’d all be better off if we pulled the plug on Limbaugh and replaced him with classic folk songs like “Kumbaya,” “We Shall Overcome” and “Blowin’ n the Wind.” I couldn’t help but think that what this cocktail party guy needs is a good dose of the 1960s.

During World War I, there was the brief but famous cessation of hostilities on the western front while the troops sang “Silent Night” together on Christmas Eve. It was a moment when the universality of music trumped the hostility of the war that was raging.

So, for the holidays, I have a fiscal cliff proposal: Let’s all agree to take it down a notch., and remember there are more things that bind us together than pull us apart. Let’s focus on common ground, and how we might get to occupy it, and stand together in the same field.

And as for specifics, how about this? John Boehner and the Republicans, tea party and all, vote to extend tax cuts on the vast majority of us earning under $250,000. Obama and the Democrats reciprocate with a vote on tax cuts for those making under $750,000 and agree on means testing for Medicare benefits, and upping the income deduction limits for paying into Social Security. Put a bow on it and put it under the tree before Christmas and throw in a little mistletoe, so we can all kiss and make up after this divisive election season.

After these first steps, back from the edge of the “fiscal cliff.” Then come back after the New Year and, in good faith, work to overhaul our entitlement system and the way we tax to support it.

And to the reported 25 percent of the Republican Party faithful who would vote to secede, go see the movie “Lincoln” this holiday season. That should settle any question of secession.

The ties that bind us together as a people are stronger than the issues which divide us. That is for certain. Let’s just remember that.

John T. Sullivan Jr. lives in Pittsburg, Kan. He teaches at Pittsburg State University and Missouri Southern State University in Joplin.