When a journalist asked me what was the most noteworthy feature of last week’s State of the Union message, I told him “that it was so civilized.” The people in the room had sharp differences over economic policy, foreign policy and social issues. We are in the middle of primary season, less than 10 months away from a national election. And yet, everyone enthusiastically supported the tradition. They stood and applauded as the President walked in; they stood and applauded as he left the room. Dick Cheney and Nancy Pelosi sat comfortably side-by-side. The audience registered their disagreements by selectively not applauded, or not standing, at key moments. There was no shouting, no fighting. No Molotov cocktails were thrown. No car bombs went off in the parking lot. There were no assassinations. It was a celebration of the way we do business.
When you travel around the world as much as I do, one of the things I most appreciate about the US is that we have built a system where we can settle our differences by voting each other off the legislative island, rather than blowing each other up. That gives us a certain flexibility, or resiliency–a system theorist would call it robustness–that still too many other countries don’t have. This robustness is rooted in our bedrock personal liberties and Bill of Rights–worth preserving at any cost.