Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill were having a drink late one night in heaven. The conversation turned to American politics.
"Tip, I don't understand what's happening down there," said Reagan. "They are tearing each other apart. Have you ever heard politicians talk like this about each other?"
O'Neill thought for a moment. "Nope. We had our differences, but we always tried to present our case to the American people in a positive way. We might have jabbed at the other guy's ideas, but it was never personal. I think the American people appreciated our ideological battles. You thought we needed less government; I believed the government was there to provide a service, especially to the elderly and sick. Both ideas have merit. All they're doing now is talking past each other. I've never heard such contempt and sarcasm."
"Yep, we had our disagreements, but I don't recall it ever being this partisan," replied the Gipper. "We came from opposite ends of the spectrum politically. Despite that we got things done. We respected the other guy's ideas. You came to the White House in 1983, we negotiated and came out with a plan to save Social Security. We would have a lot of tough verbal exchanges during the day, but after 6 p.m. we put aside our differences. We even had lunch together, especially on St. Patrick's Day. I don't see Nancy Pelosi and John Boehner even snacking together."
"Most of these politicians are tough-skinned enough, but their negative comments are rubbing off on people," replied O'Neil. "People see and hear what their leaders say, and they begin to think this must be an acceptable way to talk to each other. It's like a civil war now, but there's nothing civil about it."
Reagan paused before responding. "This political poison is starting to affect how people talk to each other. Back in our day we never had the internet. Seems like it's been a good thing. This Facebook thing has been incredible, but have you seen some of the things people say on there now? I'm afraid some folks are going to 'unfriend' each other before this election is over!"
O'Neill paused to take a sip of his Miller Lite. "The problem with this internet is, who do you believe? You've got mainstream media, cable channels, bloggers - everyone thinks they are an authority on every topic. Actual journalists don't seem to be nearly as unbiased as they once were. Their job was to go find the truth and tell the truth, no matter what the truth. Today, it's hard to know who to believe. No wonder voters are confused."
"What worries me most is how this will effect young people," added Reagan. "I see these teenagers and young adults watching their political leaders attack each other. Then their parents start doing the same thing. They must be wondering what kind of country they were born into. Is this what U.S. citizenship is supposed to be about? Can they be proud to be an American when the adults they look up to talk to each other this way?"
Just then Abe Lincoln joined the conversation.
"I heard you talking about a civil war, so I thought I would listen in," he said. "It seems like the last time people were this angry and divided was in my day. Those were tough times! The country needed to find the moral courage to break away from its past, but it took a civil war and a lot of bloodshed to make it happen."
"Surely you don't think it's that bad today, do you?" asked O'Neill.
"Hopefully not," replied Lincoln. "But as I said in 1858, a house divided against itself cannot stand. It surely seems America is once again divided."
"Is it possible in today's political environment to have both principles and pragmatism?" asked Reagan. "Is there any way these so-called leaders can learn how to respect each other enough to find compromise so that all the best interests of the American people are put first?"
"It seems to me that the political leaders in 2012 have forgotten one important thing: Republicans, Democrats – we are all Americans first," replied Lincoln. "That is as true today as it was when each of us helped lead the country."
O'Neill nodded in agreement. "This country today has some big problems, but they are not unsolvable," he said. "But these folks just keep kicking the can down the road and blaming each other. Americans are suffering as a result.
"I just don't see any solution unless both sides stop digging in their heels. No matter who wins this election, the winner needs the other side if they have any hope to get good policies passed for the American people."
"Gentlemen, in times like this, all I can say is let's hope reason and sanity will return to public discourse," said Reagan. "'In God we trust' is more than just our country's motto. It's advice for troubled times."