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Linda Boyd Coates, Published October 29 2011

Let us sing from same sheet music

I have been having a crisis of conscience. As much as I have gotten a kick out of the light-hearted sparring with my old political nemesis Scott Hennen, I wonder: How much is Face Off contributing, in its own small way, to the toxic polarization that is poisoning American governance?

Taking to the streets seems to be the strangely unifying theme of the past two years. Never in my 54 years can I remember a time when there was a national, protest-driven uprising of both the right and the left at the same time. Americans across the political spectrum are frustrated, angry, afraid and fed up. First the tea party movement and then the Occupy Wall Street movement inspired citizens to publicly express their profound fury.

But what do the movements have in common? Simply put, a sense that things are NOT RIGHT. Each side agrees our economy is a mess. Roughly put, the tea party movement sees government overreach as the problem while the Occupy Wall Street movement sees government intervention as a remedy.

But unless we – and our elected officials – find a way to put ideology aside and begin to cross the divide to find rational solutions, things will not get better.

We used to meet in the middle. The beauty of our government’s design was that input from many perspectives would ultimately make for workable policies. But in today’s climate, compromise is a political death sentence.

I am a centrist with deep leanings toward social justice. I am a daughter of Republican business owners. And frankly, I do not think I am unique among North Dakotans.

Republican friends of mine – particularly colleagues on elected bodies – may not agree with some of my core philosophies but have found a non-partisan ally on many local issues. I have made friendships along the way, which has made my life richer.

Democratic friends of mine – who have despaired on occasion at some stances I took – can take heart in many issues I chose to stake my reputation on and, in some cases, my political career.

I am reminded of the World War I Christmas Truce of 1914. On Christmas Eve in several places along the bitterly entrenched and stalemated front lines, German and British soldiers spontaneously ceased fighting and, instead, emerged from the trenches to come together and sing carols. This was frowned upon by the high brass, who were comfortably removed from the daily horror of battle.

My friends, we are stalemated in the trenches while the misery drags on. We are all Americans, and I believe we can – and must – find our way to harmony and good will again. Scott, would you care to join me on the same sheet of music?

Boyd Coates is executive director of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, a member of the Fargo School Board and a former Fargo city commissioner.