Okay, so I’m not actually calling upon people to leave civility, manners and respect of others on the wayside. These traits should all be observed in relations with other people we interact with on a daily basis. Mutual respect and tolerance for others and their ideas is a foundation of our civil society.
What I want to address is the call for civility in politics by many nationally recognized pundits and leaders. A lot has been said recently about the “You lie!” outburst from Republican representative Joe Wilson during President Obama’s big health care speech in front of congress. The same can be said of the House floor hearing where Democrat Alan Grayson essentially exclaimed that if you get sick, the Republican Party will, “Want you to die quickly.”
These shocking outbursts, whether they were planned or not, have brought on the debate that politics in America has taken a sharp and sinister turn toward incivility, hyper-partisanship and outright hostility. Some prominent politicians, like House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have even stated that they’re afraid the country is headed toward an increase in violence because of the passion and animosity coming from politicians, political commentators and citizens.
The argument that America must “return” to civility is way off base. While it’s true that American politics have become more partisan in recent years with the Republican and Democratic parties becoming more polarized, it must be acknowledged that we live in trying and contentious times.
The sudden change in the political landscape has stoked the fires of many fundamental and contentious issues that impact this nation. This intensity of debate and lack of civility is not inherent to this particular moment in U.S. history. Americans are greatly divided on the issue of health care. The passion of opponents and proponents of health care reform is very high.
The legitimate arguments for and against the current proposal are both numerous and reasonable, but each citizen’s final judgment on the issue will most likely come down to personal ideology. Reasonable people will most likely denounce rampant ad hominem attacks coming from both sides of the debate. We must, however, also accept that the passions and beliefs of American citizens and leadership will sometimes boil over. People will make rude and inflammatory comments about what – and with whom – they disagree with.
There’s a time and place for careful and dedicated study of the issues that impact our lives and the country as a whole. Intense passionate debate also has a place, though. Americans are generally upfront people who very often voice their opinions in a very loud and open way. This should not be looked upon as a negative aspect of our national character. This combination of passion and honesty will sometimes interfere with our ability to view issues in an objective way, but will not hurt the national dialog.
Americans still respect the legitimacy of the system we live under. We will accept the decisions made by our elected leaders without resorting to violence. It is our passion and desire to make our lives and our descendants’ lives better. That passion is necessary in the continual progress of our society. Telling political opponents that they must be civil appears to be saying, “Be quiet and stop arguing with me!”
In the end, American voters must decide if their representative is out of line. If that representative crosses that line, then they will be voted out of office. There is no “civility clause” in the United States Constitution. You have every right to make a fool of yourself.
JARRETT STEPMAN is likely to be seen on campus with his head buried in a long, boring non-fiction book that only he would enjoy. Oh, and also holding a large cup of coffee. Your civil or uncivil comments may be directed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.