Reach­ing out in the spirit of John McCain

Merced Sun-Star - - Los Banos Enterprise - BY JOHN SPEVAK John Spevak is a res­i­dent of Los Banos; he wrote this for the Los Banos En­ter­prise. Email

To the win­ners of the Nov. 6 elec­tion, I of­fer con­grat­u­la­tions and a mod­est pro­posal. Reach out to the losers. And reach out to other elected lead­ers who do not share all your view­points.

Let the spirit of John McCain live within you.

I have an abid­ing re­spect for Sen. McCain. I didn’t al­ways agree with his po­si­tions, but I deeply ad­mired his courage, in­tegrity, in­de­pen­dence and es­pe­cially his abil­ity to work with oth­ers.

If all pub­lic lead­ers would fol­low McCain’s ex­am­ple, our coun­try and state would be saner and stronger.

My ad­mi­ra­tion for McCain in­creased the longer he lived, es­pe­cially dur­ing the last few months of his life. To the end, he voted his con­science. I grieved his pass­ing so much that I flew the Los Banos Vet­er­ans flag in my front yard for a week, from the day he died un­til the day he was buried.

Per­haps his finest mo­ment came when he was run­ning for pres­i­dent and a woman in the au­di­ence in­sisted that Barack Obama was an Arab – im­ply­ing he was some­how an­tiAmer­i­can. “No ma’am,” said McCain, tak­ing the mi­cro­phone from the woman. “He’s a de­cent fam­ily man, a ci­ti­zen that I just hap­pen to have dis­agree­ments with on fun­da­men­tal is­sues. And that’s what this cam­paign is all about.”

If only more politi­cians could say some­thing like that in de­fense of their op­po­nents. But most would rather be­lit­tle the other per­son. McCain knew bet­ter. He knew that in the long run he would be judged by oth­ers and by his Cre­ator, not on whether he was a win­ner but whether he was a good per­son.

McCain knew he could get things done in the Se­nate by reach­ing across the aisle to oth­ers with whom he could find com­mon ground. Why can’t this hap­pen to­day? Both Repub­li­cans and Democrats are more in­ter­ested in ap­peal­ing to an an­gry or fear­ful “base” than in solv­ing prob­lems.

The same prin­ci­ple of reach­ing out to oth­ers ap­plies to lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

I hope the win­ners of the city and school board elec­tions in Los Banos work hard to go be­yond what­ever dif­fer­ences they have to achieve com­mon goals.

It only takes a lit­tle hu­mil­ity to fol­low this ap­proach.

I was worked for a com­mu­nity col­lege for four decades, see­ing the chal­lenges of ed­u­ca­tion from dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives. I worked for many years as an in­struc­tor and was part of the teach­ers’ union. Later, I served as an ad­min­is­tra­tor and was a mem­ber of the district’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team.

When I be­gan as an ad­min­is­tra­tive ne­go­tia­tor, my district ap­proached ne­go­ti­a­tions in an “ad­ver­sar­ial” man­ner, in which both sides take rigid stands and grad­u­ally, of­ten through at­tor­neys, reach an agree­ment.

This al­ways re­sulted in hard feel­ings. But even af­ter ne­go­ti­a­tions had ended, I could look my “ad­ver­saries” in the eye, and (some­times af­ter some deep breaths) say, “I re­spect you and your po­si­tion, even though my po­si­tion is dif­fer­ent.”

Later the district moved to some­thing called “in­ter­est-based” ne­go­ti­a­tions, less for­mal and less ad­ver­sar­ial. Dis­cus­sions be­gan with agree­ments about what we had in com­mon, where our “in­ter­ests” aligned. Then we pro­ceeded to ar­eas where we dif­fered.

An un­der­ly­ing premise is a will­ing­ness to un­der­stand the other per­son’s per­spec­tive. Both sides could some­times be far apart, but per­sons on both sides re­al­ized they were rep­re­sent­ing some­thing big­ger than them­selves.

Even when the sides dis­agreed the most vig­or­ously, they knew they were ful­fill­ing vi­tal roles. And when ne­go­ti­a­tions were com­pleted, and both sides knew the set­tle­ment was fair though nei­ther side got ex­actly what it wanted, all of the per­sons in­volved were able to shake hands and go out to share bev­er­ages.

Such ca­ma­raderie is only pos­si­ble when both sides treat each other with ci­vil­ity and re­spect, two qual­i­ties ab­sent from to­day’s in pub­lic fo­rums.

It may be too much to ex­pect civil and re­spect­ful in­ter­ac­tions to­day from pub­lic fig­ures at the na­tional and state lev­els. But it’s some­thing we can ex­pect from lo­cal lead­ers. Many Los Banos city coun­cil and school board mem­bers ex­em­plify this col­lab­o­ra­tive spirit.

If this spirit flour­ishes in the years ahead, lo­cal lead­ers can show by their ex­am­ple that even when we come from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives we can reach out to each other in mu­tual re­spect and ci­vil­ity. And in the spirit of John McCain.


Sen. John McCain was a model for to­day’s politi­cians, re­fus­ing to turn pol­i­tics into a blood sport and main­tain­ing re­la­tion­ships across party di­vi­sions.

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