Finding civility in an election year
Republished from CTPost.com - Friday, July 27, 2012
Politics has gotten personal, and that has the American people worried. For all the talk of America as a nation divided, Americans themselves are united in their concern about negative campaign ads, personal attacks and the general tone of our country's political rhetoric.
According to our recent KofC-Marist poll, almost 8 in 10 say they are "frustrated" with the tone of today's political debate. Two-thirds say candidates spend more time attacking each other than dealing with the issues, 74 percent say that the problem is getting worse, and 64 percent say such negativity is harmful to our political process.
Americans deserve better, and with such a quiet consensus in favor of a more civil political discourse, now is the time for the American people to go on the record with those who seek to represent us. We need to remind those running for office and those in office that how we disagree with each other says as much about us as a nation as what issues we disagree on.
Confronted with the worst economy in most of our lifetimes, America faces real problems, and it deserves debate over solutions, not personalities.
Candidates aren't running to become the next American Idol, they are running to become our public servants. They ought to behave in a manner that keeps faith with that goal.
The fact is, regardless of how we vote on Election Day, Americans on the whole disagree far less than one might think based on political campaigns and media reports.
Americans are united in their frustration with the tone of political campaigns and in their opposition to negative campaign tactics. But that is just the beginning.
On issue after issue, the American people possess something that Washington and our political contests do not: a moral center that allows for significant agreement on issue after issue. In short, scratch the surface of this country and there is much more that unites us than divides us.
But broad unity among the American people hasn't translated into civility in our public life. In living rooms and diners across this country, friends and family can disagree on political issues without hating or demonizing each other. Why can't our politicians do the same?
What America needs today is a return to the ideals of civility enshrined in Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address: "With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
Lincoln was a public servant speaking to a divided public. Today a largely united public needs to repeat his message to our badly divided public servants.
But we must speak up. We won't change the tone of today's political rhetoric by keeping silent. It's time for America's quiet consensus to be heard, and a good place to start is with something we can all agree on: civility.
"Campaign for Civility in America" is asking the public to make their voice heard as we enter the last 100 days of this campaign season by signing a petition to urge a more civil tone. The nonpartisan petition at CivilityinAmerica.org will be sent to every major news organization and candidates for federal or state office.
And should anyone think signing a document won't work, consider another statement signed in July of another year: 1776. That document changed the course of our history. That eloquent statement created massive change not because it convinced King George to chart a new course in America, but rather because it galvanized the spirit of a nation.
If we would do more than bemoan the tone of today's political debates, then this year, we should take concrete action that is consonant with the best of the American tradition.
Maybe then we could stop talking about red and blue states, and start seeing that every state is red, white and blue.
Carl Anderson is chairman and CEO of the Knights of Columbus and a best-selling author of "Beyond a House Divided."