This space is designed to start conversations. Meaningful conversations begin with simple invitations and often end with unexpected insight. Let me share a recent conversation that reminded me of important principles and gave me some things to think about and talk about. 

Over the years I have always appreciated the conservative sensibility, wisdom and humor of Washington Post columnist George Will. His ability to bring some baseball history into any discussion has always been an added bonus for me.  

This past weekend, Mr. Will and I traded text messages about a column I had written about the future of possible new political parties. Apparently, he also likes the idea of a Giraffe Party. I extended an invitation to continue the conversation, which we did on Monday during my “Inside Sources” show on KSL News Radio. As always, I learned from his perspective and continue to reflect on the principles he shared.

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I started our conversation with an example from Daniel Webster about how the mariner has to get his bearings after a storm in order to ascertain where his boat is in relation to the desired destination. I asked Mr. Will to help us understand, from a conservative principles point of view, where are we?

Mr. Will replied, “Well, I think the country took a long time waiting to exhale. But I think it did last Wednesday, noon. And now where we are is back with normal politics. We’re arguing about the stimulus: the Democrats want too much, the conservatives are back in their assigned role in life, which is to be the reality principle. It’s been well said that the first rule of economics is that scarcity is real. And the first rule of politics is to ignore the first rule of economics. So Republicans are, I think, trying to keep with Daniel Webster’s metaphor, get their sea legs back and say, Look, we remember vaguely what it meant to be a conservative — fiscal prudence, free trade, limited government, rule of law, good manners. All of those things were jettisoned over the last four years. And now Republicans are trying to relearn the script.”

We talked about how so many elected officials have been using the institutions of the Senate or the House or the presidency as their own political platforms, rather than treating these revered institutions as the great deliberative bodies they once were. Personal agendas and party politics drive the day. The far left and the far right of the current two political parties is fracturing the nation and preventing real debate, principled coalitions or cooperation.

We went on to discuss the fact that Sens. Rob Portman from Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania announced they wouldn’t seek reelection. Mr. Will reflected on the lack of legislating as a major factor for leaving, saying, “That’s one reason why serious legislators like Portman and Toomey are leaving, because almost all the business nowadays is done not in what’s called regular order, which hasn’t been regular for decades. The committees don’t function, the leadership makes the decisions. And again, serious people say this is not a serious job and they leave.”

If all the people we hope would stay in Washington leave and all those we would leave stay, we will be left with the politics of personality rather than real policy making for the people.

Mr. Will agreed and cautioned, “I think there is that danger.” He concluded with a hopeful insight, “Let’s go back to your initial question, ‘Where are we now?’ And my answer was, ‘We’re back.’ We could be back to normal politics arguing about ‘splittable differences’. How much money should be sensitive to people as part of the stimulus? Do we need a stimulus? Infrastructure?”

The term “splittable differences” gives me hope. There are issues which the political left and the political right will always approach differently. Recognizing that on the vast majority of the issues facing the nation the people mostly agree. That leaves us with “splittable difference” which elected officials should focus on.

“So stand back and understand that there’s not only a moral obligation to be intelligent. There’s a moral obligation to be cheerful while you’re being intelligent.” — George Will

Think of how many marriages, business partnerships and communities have been fractured despite agreeing on the vast majority of the solution to whatever problem was prevailing. 

Getting to the splittable difference is what will actually unite the nation, bind relationships and build the future.

And just because no conversation with George Will should ever end without a baseball reference, I recalled something he once said, “Baseball’s best teams lose about 65 times a season. It is not a game you can play with your teeth clenched.”

We should remember that elected politicians rage and rail against their opponents focusing solely on winning and losing power while missing the splittable differences, our job as citizens is to be cheerful. Mr. Will told me in a previous conversation, “We have far too much teeth-gritted politics and fist-clenched politics. Step back and understand something, that this is a country people are fighting to get in. This is a country with big problems. But that’s because it’s a big, successful country. ... So stand back and understand that there’s not only a moral obligation to be intelligent. There’s a moral obligation to be cheerful while you’re being intelligent.” 

A cheerful space is a great place to begin a conversation.