Friday, January 14, 2011

A call for civility in politics

I hope that even those who do not like President Obama or agree with his policies would at least appreciate and take to heart these words he spoke at Wednesday night's memorial service in Tucson, Arizona:
If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.

The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better in our private lives - to be better friends and neighbors, co-workers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse, let's remember that it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy, but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud. It should be because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country, and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American dream to future generations.

I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here - they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
In the days since the massacre in Tucson that claimed the life of six people, including a federal judge and a nine-year-old girl, and wounded several others, including US Representative Gabrielle Giffords, there's been a lot of discussion about the current nature of political discourse in the United States. And, while it now seems clear that the gunman, Jared Loughner, was simply a psychotic nutjob who was not influenced by any violent rhetoric aimed at his apparent target, Rep. Giffords, now is nevertheless as good a time as any for we as a nation to examine our words and actions as they relate to politics and to tone it down a few notches.

Sure, exaggeration, misrepresentation, name-calling and mudlsinging will always be a part of discussion about politics and policy within the United States. That's standard political rhetoric. But when our nation's political dialogue morphs into polarizing, demonizing bile laced with violent imagery and metaphor - and over the past few years it clearly has - it simply goes too far. It divides. It foments anger, hatred and fear. It makes us, in a word, uncivil.

I've said before, and I'll say again, that our nation is being pulled downward into a swamp of cynical, toxic, hyper-partisan and mean-spirited political shouting matches. It does not solve the problems this nation faces; it only makes them worse.

It needs to end. Now.

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