I wrote the following just over one year ago. Quite simply, it reflected my hope for civil political discourse in the upcoming election, my hopes framed by some very important lessons that I learned from my Dad.
Since writing this blog in September of last year, a lot of water has passed under the bridge. The national election has tightened dramatically, and tensions are high. It's virtually impossible to open up Facebook and not see a multitude of sarcastic, and often downright mean posts regarding the Presidential election. It seems that nowadays one has to be to the right, or to the left. The idea of reasonable minds meeting in the middle seems to be a quaint, naive idea from a forgotten era.
Since I announced my candidacy for a city council seat here in Rancho Santa Margarita, I've learned firsthand how difficult it is to mount a political campaign, even one for a city council seat in the town I love so much. Although we clearly disagree on a number of issues concerning the future of Rancho Santa Margarita, my opponents are both gentlemen, and our disagreements have been voiced in a civil, respectful manner.
With only nine days left in this election season, I continue to hope for a level of civil political discourse that will serve to illuminate the issues that will affect us all for many years to come. We, and our children, deserve nothing less.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal; It's the courage to continue that counts ~ Sir Winston Churchill
When I was a kid, I used to argue with my father about politics all the time; he was the Canadian convert to Nixonian conservatism, and as shocking as it might be to those who know me well, I was the unabashed liberal, well versed in my political posturing, and always eager to debate those whom I believed to be members of the unenlightened masses.
My priorities were whales, rainforests and the preservation of personal freedoms. I was a member of Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. I subscribed to Mother Jones magazine. I took great pride in researching all the issues, at least the issues that mattered to me. I eventually worked on the Gary Hart presidential campaign, and I truly believed that I had reached a political zenith when the then Santa Ana Register published a photo of Gary Hart with his arm around me as I held up a bumper sticker that proclaimed, “It’s OK To Be a Democrat in Orange County.” I was young, but I wasn’t stupid. I cared about the issues that mattered the most to me. What I failed to understand, was that I mattered the most to my father.
My father cared about Vietnam, as my older brother (and eventually I) faced the frightening prospect of the military draft. He cared about our national security because he cared about my safety. He cared about the effects of illegal immigration, not because it necessarily affected his life, but because it would affect mine. He cared about the state of public education because it was impossible for my parents to ever consider sending me to private school, or to ever consider paying for my college education. In short, while I was out to save the world, my father was out to save me.
We never agreed, but we never shouted. Certainly, we argued, and I would often consider his tagline of “wait until you get older and own a home, then you’ll understand” to be, at the very least, patronizing. But he respected me and was proud of me. We always disagreed; but we were rarely, if ever, disagreeable with each other.
Were my political opinions wrong? Were his? No, of course not. We were two men, one young, one less so, who firmly believed in what we felt to be true. Both of us researched the issues on which we disagreed, and we approached these issues from completely different perspectives based upon completely different life experiences. Neither of us were mindless lemmings. But, I wonder; in this day and age of reality TV, media bias, sound bites and inflexible political partisanship, is civility in political discourse still possible?
In one of the more powerful addresses that Mr. Obama has delivered as president, he captured the emotion generated by the shock of the Arizona shootings, urging Americans “to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully” and to “remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. … 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.”
Wonderful words, but any dedication to those ideals proved to be lacking. Within months, President Obama, Sarah Palin, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Joe “you lie” Wilson, etc., were tossing insults back and forth more furiously than ever before. During the recent debt limit debate/debacle, Vice President Biden and members of Congress were overheard likening Tea Party members to “terrorists.” Indeed, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats can claim any proven devotion to the concept of political civility, but wouldn’t it be nice if they at least tried? Is it still possible in this day and age?
Let’s face it. There never has been a period in American history where politicians and their supporters acted with civility. Consider the words of Thomas Jefferson during the political campaign of 1800:
“John Adams is a blind, bald crippled toothless man who secretly wants to start a war with France. While he’s not busy importing mistresses from Europe he’s trying to marry one of his sons to a daughter of King George III.”
“John Adams is a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
“If Thomas Jefferson is elected, murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes. Are you prepared to see your dwellings in flames? Female chastity violated? Children writhing on the pike?”
Hmmmm … pretty serious stuff! And far more eloquent and inventive than the gaffes that fly from Joe Biden’s mouth on a regular basis! Given over 200 years of political tradition, I suppose it’s just too much to hope for an election without all the mud slinging, name calling and character assassination.
My father passed away when I was 28 years old. My wife and children never had the opportunity to know him, and my father never had the opportunity to see me grow and change with the passing of time. Although our political leanings are now quite similar, this matters not. Regardless of ideology, I think my father would merely want me to pass on some very simple lessons to his three grandchildren:
• Believe what you believe, but only after you take the opportunity to know what you are talking about. There is no substitute for knowledge. In the words of Mark Twain, “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”
• Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Challenge your beliefs. Analyze your thoughts. The brain God gave you is meant to be used.
• No politician is the perfect leader. If you are being honest with yourself, you will disagree with some of the positions taken by your preferred candidate; this is a good thing. Support whom you wish, but blind devotion is never a good idea.
• Respect the opinions of those with whom you disagree. And when you disagree, do so without being disagreeable. Shouting is rarely an adequate substitute for a thoughtful, well reasoned opinion.
* Never forget the value of listening. You will never learn anything by talking. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~Winston Churchill
With the election cycle of 2012 fast approaching, here’s hoping for a civil discussion about the issues that will affect our lives for years to come. Civil political discourse might be too much to ask for, but I for one am well aware of the politics of love and respect. Thanks for the lesson, Dad.