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Beer, Art and Bipartisan Bonhomie

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Skall, left, CEO and co-founder of DC Brau, gives Cleaver a tour of the brewery located in Northeast D.C. Cleaver went to the brewery to check out a mural by artist Hannah Dean that was inspired by one of his “civility letters.”

A lion, a tiger, some paint, a local brewery and a touch of humility have brought a congressman, an artist and a local brewer together to talk about art, politics and Washington, paving the way for Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, D-Mo., to continue his quest for bipartisan civility.

Unfortunately for cynics who want this to be a story about a town of vicious vipers, you’re going to be disappointed. Washington is a bit more complicated and slippery than the hyper-common, easy and reductive narrative of D.C. as the playground of the malevolent, foolish and power-hungry. Those who focus on that storyline will miss the more interesting tale: the complicated story of an army of earnest dreamers.

More than a year and a half ago, during the fall of 2011, Cleaver, a minister, lawmaker and animal lover, had finally had enough of the acrimony that seemed to infect Congress like the pox. One day, having had enough, the congressman sat down and began to draft a letter, a meditation about civility and what it means to passionately disagree with someone without being utterly despicable to him or her.

A year later, one of Cleaver’s “Dear Colleague” letters inspired a former congressional fellow from another office to paint a new work. Months after that, the artist’s work was chosen to go up in DC Brau, a District brewery.

Lions and Tigers, Oh My!

Hannah Dean, an artist and a former fellow in Maine Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree’s office, received an email from an old co-worker, who still worked in Pingree’s office.

“I know you like painting animals,” the staffer wrote. “So if you have some time to kill ...”

Attached Dean found a letter written by Cleaver and dated Nov. 5, 2012. It began: “Although we often use them in the same sentence, lions and tigers don’t exist side by side on the plains of Africa.”

The congressman then began a rather lengthy meditation on the two big cats learning to compromise in order to survive.

“Having an obsession with and thus knowledge about big cats, I will tell you an almost true story about the lion and tiger that showed up at the waterhole at the same time,” he wrote. “Now, the fact that they live in the same neighborhood does not mean that they were neighborly.”

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