Something magical happened in our federal government last week. Huffington Post said it "will make you believe in politics again." Time called it "The Future of Bipartisanship."
The story got national coverage, but it might have been overshadowed. It easily could have been buried under some unfounded wiretapping allegations, defunded meals for homebound seniors, or the threat of nuclear war with North Korea. Every day is a new adventure, after all. Last Tuesday, while America was waiting for Rachel Maddow to freakin' hurry up with the tax returns before the popcorn runs out, two congressmen from Texas did something Democrats and Republicans just don't do anymore.
They rode in a car together.
When their flights to Washington were canceled, El Paso Democrat Beto O'Rourke and San Antonio Republican Will Hurd rented a Chevy Impala and hit the road for a "Congressional Cannonball Run." The pair streamed the trip on Facebook Live and Periscope, answering constituents' questions and taking song requests. They ordered drive-thru Whataburger. They spent the night in Tennessee's beautiful Ninth District and stopped at a fine donut establishment called Gibson's. They were greeted with Texas flags when they arrived at the Capitol, just in time to vote. Later they co-sponsored each other's bills and even exchanged gifts! Gifts! Between a Republican and a Democrat! Can you believe it?
During the 1,600-mile drive, they "came to some common ground," O'Rourke told NPR. After bonding over their shared love of velociraptors and John Stamos, they turned to each other and asked, "Did we just become best friends?" Hold on, maybe that was Step Brothers. But you do have to admit this sounds an awful lot like a buddy comedy.
You're allowed to roll your eyes if, like many of us, you've survived a work trip with someone you hated. But this is where we are now. Is it comforting to know that, in these polarizing times, two men from opposing parties can set aside their differences long enough to enjoy a nice long drive? Or is it depressing that elected officials have to be stuck in a Chevy Impala together for 30 hours to prove they can agree on things? No matter where your politics lie, I think we can all agree this is an opportunity for some fun #democracy #content.
Imagine if the boring old presidential debate format — the podiums, the goofy backdrop, the moderators — were replaced by a cross-country road trip. "Uber Presents: The 2020 Constituent Carpool Presented by Facebook." Candidates would drive together from California to Maine, along the way picking up constituents with questions. Viewers at home could submit questions via Facebook Live. Not only would we learn more about candidates' policy ideas, we'd find out things that really tell you what you need to know, like what music they listen to and who drives like a jerk. Bernie Sanders seems like a guy who would stay in the left lane the entire time. Ted Cruz definitely wouldn't use turn signals. He would probably hog the stereo, too. "Driver's choice!" And then, when he's riding shotgun: "Focus on the road! I'll man the tunes!"
A road trip would really spice up confirmation hearings. Load some senators into an SUV, and watch democracy work. "Well, Betsy DeVos did bring some pretty good snacks. However ... her answers proved that she doesn't know anything about education. Also she doesn't know the words to '99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall,' and that's the real dealbreaker." Jeff Sessions and Al Franken in a car together. Think about it.
C-SPAN could expand its programming and appeal to a broader audience with a new game show, Don't Make Me Turn This Car Around. It's like Cash Cab but with legislators. "After the break, the final question. Will Mitch McConnell and Elizabeth Warren split the grand prize? Or will they ... turn this car around?" Spoiler alert: They turn the car around because Mitch won't answer the question until the people have their say.
The politicians-in-cars concept could pick up speed locally, too. Surely Nashville has enough pedal taverns to accommodate the entire Tennessee legislature, though Mae Beavers would certainly object. County commissioners could bond in the early morning mess on I-40. Maybe the school board can meet in a school bus. Who wouldn't want to see two City Council members ride a tandem bike across the Big River Crossing?
Forget reaching across the aisle. America, it's time to reach for the wheel.
Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian and a digital marketing strategist.