Former first lady Betty Ford's funeral Thursday reminded many of us what a great person she was. She also left some timely reminders of how great we could be too.
Many praised the 93-year-old widow of late Republican President Gerald Ford for her candor, courage and leadership in publicizing her battles with breast cancer and alcoholism.
But she also wanted to remind us of a time that seems almost ancient in Washington, a time when our lawmakers behaved like citizens, not just partisans.
Before her death, she asked people like Rosalynn Carter, whose husband, Democrat Jimmy Carter, unseated President Ford in 1976, to speak at her funeral, partly to remind us of the Washington culture of "comity" that she liked to remember.
So said NPR commentator Cokie Roberts, daughter of late Democratic House Majority Leader Hale Boggs of Louisiana, in her eulogy to Ford.
"Comity" is a word we don't hear enough in Washington these days. It describes the ability of adversaries to work together for the common good.
Nowadays even a dry issue like raising the debt ceiling has become a new front for a culture war. Suddenly the most prosaic line items in the national budget have become an epic struggle between good and evil.
Moral absolutism is fun for the activists but hell on governing, which only happens through compromise. Unfortunately, as the clock has ticked toward the Aug. 2 deadline before the country hits its legal borrowing limit, the notorious debt-ceiling compromise has been hard to reach.
Democrats mostly want the government to bring in more revenue to reduce the deficit, including ending the Bush-era tax cuts on the rich, while Republicans mostly want to cut spending. The grown-ups in each party want a mixture of both.
So do most Americans, including most Republicans, according to a Gallup Poll taken July 7-10. Only 20 percent of the voters overall -- and 26 percent of Republican voters -- agreed that only spending cuts and no tax increases should be made in the final deal.
Yet all but seven Republicans in the House have signed the pledge of tax-foe Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform to reject any net tax increases.
Republican lawmakers, largely out of fear of tea party backlash and challenges from the right in next year's primaries, have largely held their ground, forcing President Obama and Democratic negotiators to move in their direction.
With the clock ticking away, and congressional Republicans looking more and more like the Crazy Party, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell took a drastic step. Fearing damage to his party's "brand," he proposed an opt-out maneuver. Put simply, Congress would grant Obama the power to raise the debt ceiling with new taxes and spending cuts, unless two-thirds of either house of Congress blocks it.
In other words, McConnell was willing to let Obama raise the debt ceiling as long as Republicans maintain the right to blame him for it. Such a deal.
But McConnell's no dummy. He's probably figured out that, behind the curtains of their political theater, most House Republicans will find, say, a dollar in new taxes for $3 or more in spending cuts to be a much better deal than no deal at all.
And in front of the curtains they would have the added bonus of being able to point fingers at Obama and complain about the new taxes they allowed him to raise.
That's a messy way to get things done, but that's how things work when government is run largely by people who don't like government.