Why can’t we be friends in 2008?

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be’she always called me Elwood‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”
—Elwood P. Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) in Harvey

The Republican governor of California gets a big thumbs-up for fighting on behalf of the state’s right to set stricter standards for carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles.

“It is disappointing that the federal government is … ignoring the will of tens of millions of people across the nation,” Arnold Schwarze-negger said last week. “We will sue to overturn today’s decision and allow Californians to protect our environment.”

Californians wanted automakers to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent in new cars and light trucks by 2016, which equates to gas mileage of about 43 miles per gallon for cars/light trucks and 27 miles per gallon for SUVs/heavy trucks.

A federal law signed by Bush last week sets a fleetwide mileage standard of 35 miles per gallon for cars and trucks sold in the United States by 2020.

Republican or Democrat, a politician who stands up and does the better thing—balancing varied interests—makes me happy.

My resolution for the coming year is to transcend partisan bickering whenever possible. The 2004 elections were painfully antagonistic. Sadly, I was part of that. And I fear things could be worse in 2008.

At fault, perhaps, is the Halo model of public discourse. In the popular shoot ’em up video game, you choose sides, Red or Blue, and try to annihilate your opponents.

A reader recently e-mailed me links to two “random insult generators,” one for conservatives and one for liberals.

The offer: “Use this handy tool to generate 27,000 possible random insults to hurl at all those fanatical, unmedicated, warmongering, FOX News-humping, Constitution-trampling, right-wing morons in your midst.” Or: “Use this handy tool to generate 27,000 possible random insults to hurl at all those godless, spineless, sushi-eating, America-blaming, terrorist-coddling, Hollywood-humping, liberal defeatocrats in your midst.”

The websites look identical. Both promote books—either How To Win a Fight With a Liberal or How to Win a Fight With a Conservative, by Daniel Kurtzman, political satirist and “equal-opportunity offender.”

I chuckle at the astute political commentary but grimace at its underlying truths. The spewing of cruel and stupid epithets. The refusal to see any benefits from the Other Side.

Maybe it’s time to rethink this model of public discourse and focus, instead, on commonalities.

Whether we lean right or left, our families are important to us. We want to make a living, manage a roof over our heads and keep food on the table.

The need to care for our planet is on our radar to varying extents.

If a loved one is sick or injured, we want care for him. If we have a toothache, we want to visit a dentist.

We don’t much respect capable folks who refuse to take care of themselves and expect others to do so. But we also realize that life circumstances can turn sour—and when they do, an individual or a family may need assistance. Few of us, confronted with a heartbreaking story of bad luck, would turn our backs.

We value privacy and individual freedoms of speech, press and religion. We want the right to join with others to protest a government policy or decision that seems unjust.

We want the makers of media to occasionally tell us the truth.

We want a parking spot close to the door at Costco.

We enjoy pleasant moments with friends.

And that brings me back to Jimmy Stewart’s bit from the 1950 film, Harvey.