Is political civility gone for good? Apparently. It's a terrible trend and one that has greater ramifications than just hurt feelings. S&P's recent downgrade of the U.S. was necessitated by our national debt, but the trigger for the downgrade was not the agency's belief that we will be unable to pay our debts but rather the inability of our elected officials to put aside their political differences long enough to do us all some good. Our Congress has become an adult kindergarten, full of tattlers and name callers.
The debt ceiling talks were a national embarrassment. Leaders from both sides stood each day before the microphones and disparaged the other party, declaring that it was the other side's unwillingness to yield that was the problem. We citizens don't want our Congress to play the blame game, we just want results. Like parents say a million times to their children, we don't care who started it, we just want it to stop.
What is the genesis of this national legislative gridlock? In my opinion, it is the negative campaigning that has become an entrenched part of the election process. The candidate who survives the electoral inquisition goes to Washington scarred, having had his/her reputation assaulted, his/her character demeaned, and his/her motives questioned. Who wouldn't take personally such personal attacks, especially when truth is secondary to tone? Negative campaigning is as old as campaigning itself, but our national fascination with scandal has spurred candidates to new levels of unethical behavior.
"According to a recent bipartisan survey commissioned by the Project on Campaign Conduct, voters are not overjoyed with today's political candidates and their campaign tactics."
Highlights from the Survey
Of those surveyed:
59% believe that all or most candidates deliberately twist the truth.
39% believe that all or most candidates deliberately lie to voters.
43% believe that most or all candidates deliberately make unfair attacks on their opponents. Another 45% believe that some candidates do.
67% say they can trust the government in Washington only some of the time or never.
87% are concerned about the level of personal attacks in today's political campaigns.
ThisNation.com; "Do Negative Campaign Ads Work?"
Almost 90% of respondents "are concerned about the level of personal attacks in today's political campaigns." Ninety percent! There is almost no topic on which 90% of American can agree, so this result is meaningful. Elections should not be about selecting the candidate who seems "less bad," but that's what they have become.
For more than two hundred years, political discourse within the House and Senate has been governed by certain rules first put down in the Manual of Parliamentary Practice for the Use of the Senate of the United States, written by Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Known as "Jefferson's Manual," it is prescribed reading for all incoming legislators. It describes not only the rules of parliamentary procedure but also the decorum that must accompany legislative debate. Jefferson wrote that "it is very material that order, decency and regularity, be preserved in a dignified public body." I daresay that he would be very disappointed with our current Congress.
|Ryan Rhodes gives President Obama an earful.|
Earlier this week in a town hall meeting in Iowa, President Obama sparred with prominent Tea Party member Ryan Rhodes. During their sometimes heated exchange "Rhodes shouted out that the president's calls for more civility in politics had little chance of coming to pass after 'your vice president is calling people like me, a Tea Party member, a 'terrorist.'"
A "terrorist"? What is wrong with people? Joe Biden shouldn't be so cavalier with that word, saving it instead to refer to this country's real enemies. It's completely inappropriate. In a 2009 speech to Congress on his health care reform bill, Obama was interrupted by Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who shouted "You lie!" It was an extraordinary breach of decorum and it horrified his fellow legislators.
Is this any way to run a country? Differing ideas should spur creative solutions, not animosity. Democracy cannot function without cooperation and mutual respect. This breakdown in decorum has its genesis in the slanderous campaigning that is so prevalent today. It should be outlawed.