Howard understands: We’re all in this together

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 8, 2012

Howard Shell has been the mayor of Atmore since 1986, minus a time out delivered to him by the library board in 1996. That’s 22 of the last 26 years. He didn’t seek re-election this year, and will turn 80 a few days before he leaves office in November.

I wish him well in his retirement, but I sure hate to see him go.

We have a long history, Howie and I. He’d been on the job a few years when I showed up to run the newspaper in his town. Our disagreements were epic.

He’d do something controversial, and I’d blister him (his words) in an editorial. He was so controversial, that an oppositional editorial meant I got phone calls all day, and usually a nice bouquet of flowers from his detractors.

Other days, I’d agree with him, and I’d hear from a different list of folks.

Disagreeing with him that was the most fun. Because it was a sure bet that he’d call me before the day was up.

“You make me so (expletive deleted) mad, I want to come over there and break your pencil,” he’d say.

“Well, if you didn’t behave like such an (expletive deleted), I wouldn’t have to write these things,” I’d counter, like a whippersnapper smarting off to her father.

Soon, we’d both be laughing, and one or the other would extend an invitation for a cup of coffee. Inevitably, the invitation was accepted.

That’s what makes me the most sad about his retirement. Howard understands in a way that many seem to have forgotten that politics is a game of compromise, not hate. He understands that we can totally disagree on one issue, but work as strong allies on the next one. He gets that there are friends on both sides of the aisle.

Contrast that with the very-polarized, national political scene and one starts to understand why Congress often finds itself locked in stalemates.

Bill Clinton, who worked hard in his second term to bring government to the center, reminded us of that Wednesday night when he addressed his party’s convention.

“We think ‘We’re all in this together’ is a better philosophy than ‘You’re on your own,’ ” the 42nd president said. “Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President Obama and the Democrats. After all, President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High and built the interstate highway system. And as governor, I worked with President Reagan on welfare reform and with President George H.W. Bush on national education goals.”

We could use a whole lot more of “We’re all in this together,” these days.