A few years ago, I saw on the news a story about a former U.S. Senator who was conducting a farewell tour, visiting every county of his state to thank people for the opportunity and privilege to represent them.
I asked my teenage daughter to watch the segment with me. I distinctly remember her eyes rolling. When I was in high school, I had the honor of serving as a page in the U.S. Senate. So whenever a senator of the era in which I served retired or died, I would joke with my kids that I had served with them in the Senate.
At the end of the segment, I asked my daughter to look out our front window and tell me what she saw across the street where the sidewalk ended. Suffering my questioning, yet humoring me, she said a curb. As I asked her to look closer, she noted a cut-out in the curb for accessibility. I told her that even when I was a young man (so many years ago!), there were no cut-outs, just curbs, and if not for Bob Dole, the former Senator of Kansas and a number of other good people who authored the Americans with Disabilities Act, there would still only be a curb today.
I told her the curb cut-out was proof that one person can still make a difference in this world. For me, it also was an example of the good that government can do in improving the everyday lives of residents and how leaders, working together across political and ideological lines, can get things done for the betterment of society.
While almost everyone seems to be identifying themselves politically – whether left, right, or center – it turns out I’m an institutionalist. What is most important to me is that we have and support institutions: governmental, nonprofit, associations, educational, or other civic organizations that work to support the rule of law, the betterment of society, and the ability to bring disparate interests and beliefs together in support of the common good. It’s what keeps society from chaos.
I’m not naive. Institutions have often been abused as vehicles for suppression, fostering division and discrimination. But at their best, institutions are forums for divergent interests and thoughts to come together and find common ground. Their fundamental mission is focused on the betterment of society by supporting the rule of law as a foundation for improving lives and creating thriving, functional communities.
We need to realize that compromise is not a dirty word, and in a pluralistic society of diverse voices and opinions, finding common ground is the only way for people to survive and to move forward together.
Bob Dole was a strong and proud partisan. But he also knew the value of working “across the aisle” to get things done. His approach provided us another tangible example of access beyond a barrier – a cut-out to the common ground.
At their best, institutions are forums for divergent interests and thoughts to come together and find common ground.
» Cite this article: 95 Wis. Law. 11 (February 2022).