State of the Union & Civil Discourse

I am a political and news junkie.  One of the things I like to do is to listen to the speeches at political conventions and the annual State of the Union Address.  And I watch both parties conventions and the speeches of all of our Presidents not just the ones for whom I voted.

Like many people, I think the political rhetoric has been particularly divisive for quite some time.  And, just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.  I believe that the vast majority of people are like me and would really like an end to partisanship politics.

But, let’s not confuse passion with civil discourse.  I am all for passion.  But, when passion for a position, becomes a reason to denigrate someone with an opposing view or to start name calling or to start bullying, we have crossed the line from civil to non-civil discourse.  Just because someone is a Democrat does not mean they are a socialist or a communist and just because someone is a Republican does not mean they are a fascist.  Name calling is meant to be hurtful.  It is not helpful.  It creates division and prevents unity.  And, perhaps most importantly, it prevents progress.

I adhere to the belief that if you teach your kids that name calling is wrong, then you shouldn’t do it as an adult.  If you teach your kids that being a bully is wrong, then you shouldn’t be a bully.  And if you teach your kids to play nice, compromise, and try to get along, then you should do so as an adult.  We are, after all, role models for our children.  (I talked about this here).

This past election cycle was particularly nasty as the tone and tenor of the campaigns reached all time highs of maliciousness.  Most of us profess to hate this, but the reason they continue is because they have an impact on people’s opinions and voting patterns – at least according to the polls.

It bothers me that it takes a tragedy, like the shootings in Tucson and the death of a 9 year old girl, for people to actually start taking steps to stop the insanity.

President Obama in Tucson on January 12, 2011 . (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

“But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

As I watched the State of the Union Address and saw members of Congress cross the aisle to sit with one another, and I listened to party leaders, like John McCain, continue to support his positions yet give credence and support for a President against whom he ran a tough campaign, I am hopeful that maybe we can start a new era.  An era of civility where we can disagree, sometimes passionately, yet be respectful of one another.

Because in the words of President Obama from last night’s speech (January 25, 2011, State of the Union Address), “We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled.”

And, rather than tearing one another down, we can find the common ground to lift each other up.  And rather than undoing each other’s initiatives, we find ways to make them work.  Work not just for the sake of compromise, but work for the sake of our country and all of us citizens.

And in the words of President Obama with regard to 9 year old Christina Taylor Green (from the speech in Tucson) and for all of our children we should “commit ourselves as Americans to forging a country that is forever worthy of her gentle, happy spirit.”

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