Civility…? Where…?

November 15, 2007

Today web news sites have been abuzz with reports of the happenings at a John McCain town hall meeting. It seems that the Senator from Arizona was asked “How do we beat the bitch?”, in apparent reference to Hillary Clinton: the only female in the race. While I am not above a fair amount of critical sarcasm, I do believe that the question goes way beyond; not because of the language but because of the attitude behind it.

It used to be that politics was about opinions and ideas and, when the debate ceased and the votes were tallied, the combatants would light a cigar, pour a drink, and catch up on each other’s family lives. Since negative campaigns and he said/she said disagreement has ruled the day, however, those moments have become endangered species. It is hard to come back from such personal attacks.

I ran as a Republican. I am proud to be a Republican. I am happy that Patrick Kennedy, my opponent in 2006, is proud to be a Democrat. While we disagree on some fundamental issues and have divergent beliefs about just how our nation can reach its potential, I do not believe for a second that he is a terrible human being because he does not agree with me and I certainly never got the indication that he dislikes me because I choose to run with the loyal opposition. Further, I refuse to accept that he loves trees more than he loves this nation and hope that he understands that my moral compass places people before country clubs. Unfortunately we are out of the mainstream in this day and age.

Some will criticize me, without doubt, for saying something nice about a Democrat. He may even take some heat because I have said something nice about him. It is the way of 21st century politics: “Democrats good… Republicans bad”. “No… Democrats bad… Republicans good”. Reality is that, just as our parents taught us when we were young, there is good and bad everywhere. We need to unlearn the rest of it.

Hear me Rhode Island: All Republicans don’t eat puppies. All Democrats are not good. Union bosses don’t always represent the interest of their rank and file and not all conservatives want to get rid of unions all together. Take away the Party line and listen to what your candidates have to say. You may be very surprised.

I was once told by a member of the general public that the best Republican strategy in the Ocean State might be to run all of our candidates in Democratic primaries. That way, the theory went, the voters would have to check out the candidates’ positions and not blindly follow their learned reaction. I’m not sure that it would do anything other than move people towards the incumbents or the candidates with better name recognition but it’s a novel idea. At least we could all sit down together afterwards and let go of some of the hate.

I had a conversation with Bill Lynch and Tim Grillo, from the Democratic Party, last week, after an event at Providence College, and covered this very same subject. I have respect for them and their beliefs. I hope that they have the same for me and mine.  Mr. Lynch and I agreed that some of the worst hate comes from intraParty factions. I guess that will be the new frontier. Before that happens , though, we need to take it back towards civility.

Don’t get me wrong. We will never get the disagreement out of politics. Truth be told, I enjoy the disagreement. It means that the process is still vital. We need to focus that disagreement on the ideas and issues, however. This nation will never move forward with its elected officials paralyzed by preconceived notions and shouting rude epithets from the rostrum. We move forward with the free and open debate of ideas and a citizenry that feels connected to their representatives.

It would be a bit of “back to the future” but, if we ever do manage to abandon the schoolyard stuff and get back to civility, I pledge that I will be the first to offer the olive branch to my opponent and light the cigars. I promise that I won’t order the puppy sandwich.