One Way to Stamp Out the Red/Blue Divide

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I've started to collect stamps again, which, I confess, is somewhat embarrassing. There's nothing cool, hip or urbane about it. James Bond never showed off his stamp collection. But I do confess I like it, having taken about a 33-year hiatus from when I was a 10-year-old in New Jersey and used to fill books with stamps of moon landings and soldiers and exotic birds. Having a young son now has heightened my interest and so has this week's once-in-a-decade stamp show in Washington, D.C.

Stamps have a cultural resonance. The U.S. Postal Service does not put living Americans on stamps, and so when an icon dies, their arrival on a stamp signals a kind of American enshrinement for their place in history. Last year's issue of a Ronald Reagan stamp saw some of the briskest sales in postal history, and no doubt when Bill Clinton passes on in the future there will be a debate about how to portray his likeness — just as there was over the Richard Nixon stamp.

My renewed interest in stamps gave me an idea. At a time of polarized politics in America, the U.S. Postal Service should issue a pair of stamps honoring two Commerce Secretaries who died before their time and who each embodied what’s best about red- and blue-state America. I'm thinking of Malcolm Baldridge, who served under Ronald Reagan and died in a horseback riding accident in 1987, and Ron Brown, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, who served under Bill Clinton and died in a plane crash while trying to promote economic development in the Balkans during the Bosnian war along with a slew of American executives he had brought with him.

Each man was representative of a strain in American life. Brown grew up in Harlem, where his father ran the Hotel Theresa, which was frequented by celebrities. He earned a law degree at St. John's University, had a prominent career with the National Urban League and went on to become one of the great Washington insiders. Baldridge is probably best remembered for the Malcolm Baldridge award given to outstanding businesses or nonprofits, but he had a fascinating life. His father was a Nebraska congressman, and Baldridge went on to become head of Scovill, which makes fasteners for much of the world’s apparel. His biography notes: "Baldrige worked during his boyhood as a ranch hand and earned several awards as a professional team roper on the rodeo circuit. He was a Professional Rodeo Man of the Year in 1980 and was installed in the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1984. Baldrige once appeared on the television game show To Tell the Truth pretending to be rodeo tie-down roping champion Dean Oliver." The cowboy businessman and the Harlem civil rights worker — each man was the embodiment of their party's best strains.

A stamp can’t change the world, but it can remind us in a small way about the greatness of America. And by honoring these two men — liberal and conservative, Democrat and Republican — it can remind us that we have more in common than not. Citizens can petition the Postal Service for stamp suggestions. If you'd like to see Brown and Baldridge stamps, write me at Brownandbaldridge@AOL.COM