Ron Sirak

Time To Split The Fairway

How can the right and left in this country get along? Let golf show us the way

Barack Obama and John Boehner

President Barack Obama and John Boehner bonded on the golf course last year.

November 7, 2012

Republicans will say that the Golfer-in-Chief has gotten an undeserved mulligan. Democrats will merely view it as President Barack Obama moving on to play the back nine after two clear-cut victories. What both sides should see in Tuesday's election results is a second chance for America to get this cooperation thing right. This is not a time for those who disagree to step away from each other, but rather a time to reach out to bridge their differences.

Earlier this year, at the Masters, I was chatting with former Sen. Sam Nunn, who is an Augusta National GC member. Now, I am a political junkie and when I have the opportunity to pick the brain of someone as smart as Nunn, I'm not going to let that ship sail without jumping on board.

Related: Photos of the First Golfer

Our conversation, which took place in the last row of the amphitheater media center at Augusta National, focused on the gridlock in Washington. I said that I was old enough to remember when the GOP had a broad-enough tent to have elected officials like Senators Lowell Weicker and Jacob Javitz, two moderate liberals.

"And a time when Democrats could elect a conservative," Nunn added with a wry smile that indicated that he was referring to himself. Exactly. The tents have gotten smaller and as a result the ideas within those tents have grown narrower.

The next day, Augusta National chairman Billy Payne held his annual session with the press and Sen. Nunn sat next to me in the interview room. Payne was asked a question he was asked every year but will never be asked again: "Why are there no female members at Augusta National?"

Payne restated the long-standing club policy not to publicly discuss membership matters. The reporter, not happy with the answer, rephrased the question. When Payne began to reply with the same answer, another reporter cut him off in mid-sentence.

Sen. Nunn looked at me and shook his head sadly. "This is what we have become," he said. "We have forgotten how to disagree with each other civilly, politely and with respect."

When Sen. Ted Kennedy, one of the fiercest liberals in Washington, died, one of those who spoke at the funeral was Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican from Utah.

Among the stories told by Hatch was the time Kennedy rose to the Senate floor and made a speech blistering Hatch's support of some particular bill. Kennedy made his case in no uncertain terms, implying Hatch was less-than-functional in supporting the measure.

But later, Hatch said, Kennedy came up to him in the Senate cloakroom, slapped him on the back and said, "How was that?" letting loose that hearty Teddy laugh. Hatch and Kennedy disagreed on much, but they were friends, with the Democrat inviting the Republican to his Cape Cod house to take him sailing.

No matter where you stand on the political scale -- the left side, the right, or somewhere in between -- the nation now, with so many challenges ahead, needs to find a balance. I'm not smart enough to know where the balance resides, but I am willing to trust that both the Democrats and Republican have people smart enough and noble enough to find it.

Golf gives us a perfect road map to follow. Presidents Eisenhower and Ford were both passionate golfers and they were both Republicans. Presidents Clinton and Obama, both Democrats, share that passion.

And then there is this: Golf is the game that gives back. No game gives to charity the way golf does. The January issue of Golf Digest celebrates this spirit of giving and cooperation with four different covers featuring President Clinton, actors Morgan Freeman and Michael J. Fox and swimmer Michael Phelps.

Related: Photos from Golf Digest's charity issue

The point is this: Clinton, Freeman, Fox, and Phelps do not ask the political affiliation of the people they help, nor of the people who donate money to their causes. They just try to make the world a better, safer, fairer place.

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