Making trades

Governor Christie and President Obama meeting with New Jersey residents.

Compromise isn’t our natural inclination. Sometimes we’d rather dig our heels in and insist on our position. If those around us won’t play along with us, well, we’ll just take our ball and go home. Too often that’s the place we find ourselves in if we’re not willing to bend towards our foes, or even people we consider friends, including family members.

I love a pitched political battle as well as anyone. In sports, I was a fierce competitor. I hated to lose and sometimes, I let my competitive fires burn a little too hot. Some of that competitiveness unfortunately carried over into my personal life, singeing those around me.

In my early 20s, I became obsessed with finding the truth, the “one true way.” Whether it was religion, sports teams, politics, or relations with co-workers, it was often my way, or the highway. I could chalk it up to youthful inexperience, hard-headedness, a need always to be right—whatever the reason, it ultimately became untenable. Life lived in close proximity with others requires compromise and making trades.

Returning to sports for a moment, the professional variety often involves trades. This is especially true when a team is missing a key player or two and they make a deal with another team, swapping players. If done well, both parties benefit. Think the Boston Celtics and the two deals that brought them both Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and banner number 17 in 2008. Compromise and conciliation isn’t always that dramatic, but in the long run, dialing down your own considerations and thinking in terms of allowing others to get some of what they need results in you getting what you need, and it’s not uncommon for you also to get what you want.

The art of conciliation has been prominently displayed the past few days in New Jersey.  The governor of the state, Chris Christie—an often vocal critic of President Obama, and also a key surrogate of presidential candidate Mitt Romney—has put aside politics and has been working hand in hand with the president to ensure that affected residents of his state get what they need at this most difficult time.

Cynical types will see this as just another example of craven political pandering. That’s too bad because you are missing something that’s been lacking for much of the past four years—America’s two major parties putting aside ideology to deal with an immediate crisis.

I rarely don rose-colored glasses, so I don’t think I’m coming at this as a rube.

For much of the past four years, I saw Governor Christie as a right-wing blowhard, with presidential aspirations. The past couple of days, I saw a man demonstrating leadership. If I was a New Jersey resident putting my life back together after a natural disaster of historic proportions, I’d be proud of my governor.

Personally, I saw too much bluster and political posturing in Christie. As a result, I missed that underneath was a man with values, ideals, and a passion that burns brightly for the people of his state. His no-nonsense ways are what New Jersey needs right now.

Do these actions help him politically? Hell yes. He is a politician, one with eyes on 2016. Right now, I see qualities I like.

Here’s the thing. He could have pulled a Mayor Bloomberg and told President Obama to stay away. If he had, no one would have batted an eye; in fact, it was expected. Because he didn’t the usual suspects have criticized.

The president has been proactive and looks like a commander in chief, much different than a former president during a previous natural disaster of similar proportions to our south seven years ago.

Our country faces significant challenges beyond Hurricane Sandy. Our aging infrastructure, especially in places like the Northeast, needs to be addressed. If there’s a silver lining at all in this disaster, maybe it’s that it shines a light on the need for political foes to reach across the aisle and do what’s best for all Americans, not just those loyal to their party.

Most mornings, my routine involves breakfast and about 15-20 minutes watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe program, with Mika Brzezinsky and Joe Scarborough. This morning, Bill Karins, the MSNBC meteorologist offered a poignant observation.  He said that three days is usually when goodwill and the “novelty” of a crisis and natural disaster wears off. People begin expecting things to return to normal.

Given that the Jersey Shore, reshaped by the sheer force of nature, is weeks and even months away from returning to even a semblance of normalcy begs the question. Will the political goodwill created by the positive words and first actions of both Governor Christie and President Obama turn to anger and disappointment? I can’t answer that, as only time will tell.

At first blush, however, both the president and New Jersey’s governor have taken initial positive steps that I think will ultimately prove important.

I recognize that partisan hacks are going to spew their usual hate and vitriol. It’s what bitter, cynical people do. I’m choosing to see leadership on display, and I don’t care whether it’s coming from a conservative  Republican, or a Democrat, one characterized as a “tax and spend liberal,” but who is actually more of a centrist than opponents (and supporters) give him credit for.

All or nothing thinking leads to dead ends. Real leadership is what America needs more of right now, not less.