After witnessing all three presidential debacles — I refuse to call them debates — I wonder whatever happened to political civility.
Viewing the last televised fiasco was especially painful as I had just lost one of my dearest friends. Shelton Oakes had just lost his long battle with cancer.
I mention this because we were friends who were political opposites. Of course we had much in common, such as our love of sports and coaching youth sports teams together. But we were political opposites — I a moderate Democrat, he a conservative Republican — who spent a great deal of time discussing political issues.
We agreed on most. With those we didn’t, we sought out each other’s opinion because we had mutual respect for one another. We civilly offered up our thoughts, often with humor. We were eager to try to understand each other. This allowed us to seek common ground. That, dear reader, is how American political discourse should be handled.
I’d like to believe that is what our Founding Fathers expected of future generations. It is certainly how they worked to resolve their disputes. Had they not, they would have never succeeded in creating this great political experiment we call representative democracy.
With mutual respect, the founders of this nation put aside ideological differences for the common goal of creating something better, something the world had never witnessed. This combination of respect and a shared goal enabled them to overcome significant differences and allowed them to work together.
They began with the task of finding common ground, then to seek compromise and thus build a consensus. That is how the how the Constitution was created.
It is especially representative of the creation of the Bill of Rights. The chief architect of the Constitution, James Madison, did not believe it necessary. He thought it might create more damage than good. He came to accept it, however, in the spirit of compromise, and to ensure the Constitution’s adoption at the Continental Congress.
In fact, his change of heart on the subject was because he correctly believed its adoption would end efforts of certain states who were calling for a new Constitutional Convention, one Madison was certain would spell doom for the creation of a central government.
One wishes our elected officials today behaved in such a manner. Imagine the great things America might accomplish if it were so. Imagine if the leaders of the two political parties in Washington put aside ideological intransigence and sought common ground for accomplishing the common good.
Consider how it could be if they dropped the zero-sum game approach to politics and rediscovered the art of compromise. There are any number of political issues about which the American people find themselves largely in agreement, but our leaders won’t resolve them because compromise has become a four-letter word among certain constituencies.
That brings me to an important point. I can lay blame for our lack of political civility on Newt Gingrich, talk radio, faux news organizations, the internet, even the primary system. But the heart of the problem lies with you and me. My all-time favorite political cartoon was Pogo, when he declared “I have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Folks, we are the problem. We accept the incivility. We listen to it and share it with others when we should be demanding an end to it. We should let everyone know we will vote against candidates who promote it. We should demand of our elected officials they knock it off and get back to finding common ground and compromise.
American political discourse will not improve until we demand it and we practice it ourselves.
Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield.