Coming Together

Everett Dirksen was born in 1896 to parents who were German immigrants to America. His father died when he was nine, and he grew up on a farm managed by his mother. He needed to work during high school and college to support his family. His family were strong Republicans and that influenced Everett’s ultimate career.

When World War I began, the Dirksen’s came under suspicion because of their ancestry. Everett joined the Army to show his patriotism. He served as an aerial observer and in intelligence during the war.

After the war and a short time in business, he began his political career, first serving on city council and then on the U.S. House of Representatives. He served in the House for seven terms.

Although being a Republican, he supported many of President Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives, as well as the entry of the U.S. into World War II.

After service in the House, he moved to the U.S. Senate where he eventually became the Minority Leader. He and the Majority Leader developed a close working relationship. His ability to unify his Republican colleagues made him a powerful political leader.

Senator Dirksen was a strong advocate for Civil Rights in the 1960s and helped defeat a filibuster of Southern senators. He was also supportive of President Johnson’s efforts in Vietnam.

While Senator Dirksen often disagreed with Democratic Presidents and his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, their disagreements were never rancorous. His voice and his eloquence made him a very effective advocate for fiscal conservation. But again, his oratory was never demeaning. He died while serving in the Senate.

One has to wonder when vitriol replaced honest disagreement. When opposition for the sake of opposition replaced coming together on issues where reasonable agreement can be found? When did comments about the opposition become personal attacks rather than an honest difference of opinion?

The work of true leadership is respect for those who disagree with, a genuine willingness to work through differences, and an acceptance that there can be other points of view. We seem to be lacking that today.

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“I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.” – Everett Dirksen

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