NOTIONS: A call for cooperation in a deep purple nation

It’s election night. The hour is late. Political junkie that I am, however, I’m propped up in bed, the television blaring before me, the laptop perched on my legs.

Remote in hand, I flip TV channels between CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, CNBC, FOX, C- SPAN and Comedy Central. With the flick of an index finger on my computer, I bounce between Web sites of

The Indianapolis Star, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Marion County Election Board, and newspapers and television stations in hotly contested areas of the state and nation. Being in my bedroom on a 21st-century election night is a little like Starship Enterprise bridge duty during a Klingon onslaught. As I watch, the electoral numbers shift a little here and a little there. One candidate pulls ahead, then another. Networks jockey to see which can call a race first (but without declaring winners too soon and suffering “Dewey defeats Truman” ignominy). Candidates give victory and concession speeches. Losing henchmen deliver carefully crafted excuses.

Winning henchmen graciously gloat.

And pundits-from vantage points left, right and center-try their hands at trendspotting, what ifs, and the deeper meaning of each subtle shift in the late-night score.

Earlier on Election Day, my Indiana University Alumni Magazine arrived in the mail. In between meetings, I flipped through the pages, landing on an article about some recent research by a political science professor.

From what I gleaned from a quick first glance, the story said that all the bluestate/red-state dichotomy propagated by the news media to simplify matters for an inattentive electorate is basically bunk. Instead, the article suggested, we’re a purple nation, with varying degrees of plum and lavender co-existing everywhere. There were spotted purple maps to illustrate the point.

As my digital clock clicked past midnight, my increasingly bleary eyes squinted at online maps of the nation, and diagrams of House and Senate chambers. They did, indeed, appear more mauve than ever.

And so, in my state of Indiana and in our nation as a whole, we find ourselves for at least the next two years dwelling in a house divided: an executive branch led by one political party, key parts of the Legislature led by the other.

Given the black-and-white nature of these red-and-blue circumstances, we’ll now witness a choice: Seeing before them a society with great needs and much distress, these red and blue partisans can either blend their Crayolas into some soothing shade of violet or they can shatter one another and leave us all bruised in burgundy.

On election eve, I read a book by my friend Jim Miller. Called “Change & Possibility: Discovering Hope in Life’s Transitions,” it offers insights as to why change hurts so much, why we resist it, and how we can better navigate it and emerge stronger than ever. Jim’s book also includes insightful quotations from famous people, including this inscription from Machiavelli’s tomb: “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

A long time ago, my own house became divided (read: divorce). And while it was difficult, perilous and uncertain of success, my former wife and I-and the spouses we subsequently married-had to introduce a new order of things.

As with the state and federal governments that emerged from last week’s elections, there were human lives depending on our ability to navigate our differences and move on.

In our case, that was our twin sons.

In Indiana’s case, that’s our state’s citizens.

In America’s case, that’s the people of this nation and much of the world.

Following a divorce with kids, thoughtful parents quickly realize that despite their animosity toward one another and whatever inherent bitterness, anger, finger-pointing, back-stabbing or blame-shifting results, you only get one chance with the children. And any time the grown-ups waste fussing and fighting is time lost forever when it comes to caring and nurturing, educating and loving the kids.

Like it or not, Indiana and America set up the electoral equivalent of divorced parents last week. And like the children of such disunion, our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the people of those nations on which we’ve waged war, our own citizens living in poverty, the immigrants flocking across our borders, the inmates overcrowding our prisons, our students craving learning, our schools struggling with unfunded mandates, our local governments starved to meet growing needs, our communities fraught with violence, our charities choked for resources and our businesses hungry to create jobs cannot afford to have elected leaders wasting even a minute fussing and fighting with one another.

Ours is a fragile family. We have only one chance. And our lives, our health and our economy need all the caring and nurturing, educating and loving they can get.

Hetrick is chairman and CEO of Hetrick Communications Inc., an Indianapolis-based public relations and marketing communications firm. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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