INDIANAPOLIS – Two moments made me miss two friends.
One came when President Donald Trump spoke at a rally in Minnesota. The president of the United States said that the only reason his opponent Joe Biden had been a good vice president was that Biden had been willing to kiss former President Barack Obama’s, uh, posterior.
The crowd roared its approval.
Others were appalled.
Some of Trump’s critics noted the crassness of the president’s language. They said it was beneath the dignity of his office.
Others found it ironic that a man whose appetite for obsequiousness and flattery among his own underlings is endless would criticize someone else for bootlicking.
Few noted, though, that it degraded not just the speaker, but the nation and our notions of shared citizenship.
The other moment took place when Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer McCormick, a Republican, introduced Indiana Sen. Eddie Melton, D-Gary, when Melton announced he is running for governor.
Republicans have been outraged that McCormick has been supportive of Melton. When the two went on a listening tour to hear from parents and students how Indiana’s schools might be improved, the chair of the state GOP released a statement that would have to cool down several hundred degrees to be considered merely scorching.
Doubtless, because these are relentlessly partisan times, there also are Democrats who are less than thrilled that Melton is making nice with a Republican.
This is the point where I shake my head and think of two departed friends, the late U.S. Rep. Andy Jacobs Jr., D-Indiana, and four-term Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut, a Republican.
The two men ran against each other twice – in 1972 and 1974. Bill won the first campaign. Andy captured the second one. (I’m going to use their first names because they both were friends of mine.)
Those days, like these days, were contentious ones. The Vietnam War, struggles over civil rights and other seismic changes in the American experience frightened and angered people.
And then, as now, America had a president in the White House who sought to divide rather than unite the country. Richard Nixon called his political approach “positive polarization” and built enemies’ lists of fellow citizens he wanted to destroy.
Bill and Andy weren’t built that way.
Both went into politics because they liked people, including those with whom they disagreed. They saw government as a place where free people could work out their differences and build better communities and lives for everyone.
I remember Andy telling me once how he disliked hearing political candidates say they would “fight” for this or that goal or program.
“What’s wrong with saying, ‘I’ll work for this’ rather than ‘I’ll fight for this?’” he said.
His point was clear: Why do we have to reduce everything to an us versus them dynamic – particularly when people in the “them” camp are our neighbors and fellow citizens?
In the two races in which they ran against each other, they often drove to debates and joint campaign appearances together. Before they were called to the stage, they’d sit in the back of the room together. Both superb raconteurs, they’d be laughing out loud, trading stories and jokes.
Their friendship continued for the rest of their lives.
After Bill became mayor, he often had to travel to Washington on city business. When he did, he stayed at Andy’s apartment. When Bill and his wife Bev had their son, Chris, Andy’s wife Kim sewed the baby a birthing gown.
Their friendship didn’t mean that they didn’t have political differences.
Bill told me once about the time Andy called the revamping and repurposing of Union Station that happened on Bill’s watch as mayor in Indianapolis “a turkey.” It stung, Bill said.
But then he chuckled.
“He might have had a point,” Bill said. “It might have been a turkey.”
And that is the point.
Bill Hudnut and Andy Jacobs were different men, but they understood the forces that unite us – friendship and a shared love of country – are greater than those dividing us. Because they liked and listened to each other, they could learn from each other.
Andy and Bill are gone now, but they still can teach us.
That’s what true leaders do.