by Michael K. Hurst
Many of us were taught not to talk politics at the dinner table. Partisan politics is divisive by definition and increasingly inflammatory. What can our profession do to reverse what amounts to gridlock associated with the seeming inability to have productive political discourse in our Country?
Great leaders in our Country and our profession have always been statesmen and stateswomen. A “statesman” is defined as “a wise, skilled and respected government leader.” Yet so much of what we see and hear from our elected officials today are partisan attacks against one another and name calling that includes labeling someone a member of a different political party as an intended insult. While America’s two-party system has existed since at least as far back as 1796, most people I know, regardless of professed political party affiliation, have many similar views about the importance of democracy, respect for each other’s innate and ideological differences, patriotism, the need for national security, and much more.
On May 4, the Dallas Bar hosted its Law Day Luncheon, where special Congressional guests, Democrat Mark Veasey and Republican Pete Sessions, visited with me about the importance of working together, the separation of powers, and bipartisanship. Many folks in the audience seemed surprised to learn that not only are these leaders good friends, but there are many issues upon which they actually agree and work together to achieve. While they are far from alone amongst political leaders from opposite sides of the aisle who actually collaborate, this is not what we see on TV and on social media.
For this column, when I asked Congressman Veasey about the importance of bipartisanship and statesmanship, he told me “There are certainly areas where both Republicans and Democrats can find common ground. The American people deserve a great Congress; one that can have passionate debates about our values, and work together to find solutions that support working families across the country. We are sent to Congress to best represent the needs of our constituents, and working across the aisle is a key part of honoring our duty to serve the American people.”
Similarly, Congressman Sessions told me “I have consistently worked with members of Congress across the political spectrum to find commonsense solutions to the issues we face as a nation. Just last month I participated in a roundtable event with my friend Democratic Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts to discuss trade and while Mr. Kennedy and I may not agree on every aspect of this policy, we found common ground and made an effort to work together on behalf of the folks we represent. This is just one of the many examples of civility and bipartisan efforts within Congress that you don’t always see in the news and I will continue to work with my colleagues, no matter the political party, for the good of the American people.”
Maybe there is hope for our Country, and lawyers should lead by example. Kim Askew, longtime DBA, ABA and State Bar leader, recognized that: “Great lawyers are statesmen. They help clients achieve legal goals by adhering to the rule of law in a manner that asks what is both ‘legal’ and ‘right.’ They conduct themselves with integrity and demand the same of clients. They are leaders.” Harriet Miers, former White House counsel and DBA and State Bar President, added: “Lawyers are officers of the Court as well as representatives of their clients. Faithfully, effectively, and efficiently fulfilling those duties to the judicial system and clients, lawyers are truly statesmen and stateswomen with treasurable tools of their profession and critical obligations to our third branch of government.”
Lawyers have traditionally served as guardians of statesmanship. We protect the Constitution and the rule of law. Being a lawyer/statesman means being a person of judgment and wisdom even more than presenting as an expert in the law. Our profession always has place for us to serve as candidates, officials, zealous advocates and spokespeople. However, we do not need to make room for name calling and personal attacks. Like it does to our political system, these attacks demean our profession.
Bipartisanship is good. When something of significance gets done in politics, and stays done, it is usually a result of working together and compromising. Bipartisanship creates moderation and fosters civility rather than hostility.
I dare say that partisan politics serve no good ends in the everyday practice of law. “There is a time and a place for partisan politics, but there is never a good time for that in my professional world as a criminal defense attorney,” said Barry Sorrels, past president of the DBA.
Lawyers are not only the protectors of the rule of law, we are leaders and agents of change. We can and need to help undo this political gridlock. Instead of considering the topic of politics taboo at the dinner table, why not talk about politics on areas on which we can agree and work together? I would love to participate.