The 2012 Republican field has been fodder for late-night television. What’s no laughing matter is the dangerous foray into the politics of “severity,” as Mitt Romney labeled his brand of conservatism Friday at the CPAC conference in Washington, D.C.
A focus on wedge issues like gay marriage, abortion and immigration, an opposition to all things Obama, and economic policies which expand the precipice between rich and poor have driven the Republican agenda in Congress and on the campaign trail. The art of compromise and the virtue of civility have been replaced by a virtueless partisanship of opposition at all costs. The American people have demanded better even though forced to digest what currently qualifies as “leadership.” America promises them better and the 2012 election must commence a return to civility and statesmanship if we are to realize our best days remain ahead and not behind us.
Where Adams had Jefferson, Lincoln had Douglas, and Clinton had Gingrich, Obama has a Republican congressional leadership of naysayers and obstructionists all with a one-word vocabulary; “NO!”
Lack of civility is certainly not a new paradigm of American politics. Just look at the election of 1800, perhaps the most vicious of all. Still, uncivil behavior and outright vitriol have been the exception in the actual governing of America. Our representative democracy thrives on debate and disagreement yet this discourse is dependent upon thoughtful, sober leaders. President Barack Obama’s first term has witnessed rising partisanship and a lack of civil exchange and reasonable compromise at unprecedented levels. This election warrants a genuine debate of the issues.
A Zogby poll initiated by Allegheny College examined the state of civility in American politics today. An overwhelming 95% of respondents agreed that “civility in politics is important for a healthy democracy,” 87% agreed that it was possible to disagree respectfully, and 48% believed that there has been a decline in civility in politics. Asked whether the “ability to compromise to get things done or a willingness to stand firm in support of principles was more important,” there was a marked difference between Democrats and Republicans with 52.3% of Democrats choosing compromise and just 35% of Republicans. We see this reality play out in the current face-off between the White House and the Republican congressional leadership. Though, the “principle” seems dependent on an opposition to everything at any cost to the electorate. Where have the statesman gone?
With the increasingly partisan nature of our political institutions and the advent of American news derived not from objective sources, but rather from the spouting of disc jockeys, entertainers moonlighting as political “experts” on Fox News and MSNBC, and the irony of comedians, cynicism and distrust of the political climate is high. Still, this is America; a complicated and often enraging exemplar of its own brilliance, granting the enumerated right to scream out for change or demand the status quo.
Jefferson proposed that a revolution was warranted every six years. After 235 years, the American experiment still thrives. The 2012 presidential election will bring ardent proponents of opposing ideologies and over a billion dollars spent in an effort to win. What must remain after the votes are tallied and the campaign banners are torn down is a commitment to ensure that our best is yet to come. Ironically perhaps, maintaining that principle will surely demand compromise.
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