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Civility Needed Now, More than Ever

January 12, 2011

Congressman John Boehner stated, in his first speech as Speaker of the House, that he will “stand firm” for his party’s principles, but despite the “shellacking” that the GOP gave to the Democrats at the polls in November, pledged to respect the minority party’s right to “an honest debate—a fair and open process.”  Boehner continued, stating that, “a great deal of scar tissue has built up on both sides of the aisle. We cannot ignore that, nor should we. My belief has always been, we can disagree without being disagreeable to each other.”  Last Saturday morning, the nation was shocked when several Americans, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, were shot in Tuscon, Arizona.  As the Congresswoman remains in critical condition, the nation has witnessed an outpouring of support for the victims and their families.  Along with this support, however, have been numerous calls from both sides of the political aisle to tone down the harsh rhetoric and incivility that characterized much of the 2010 midterm election campaign season.  The President stated that, “It’s not surprising that today Gabby was doing what she always does –listening to the hopes and concerns of her neighbors. That is the essence of what our democracy is all about,” he said. “That is why this is more than a tragedy for those involved. It is a tragedy for Arizona and a tragedy for our entire country.”

MSNBC’s Morning Joe, the most balanced and civil of any morning news program in my opinion, serves as an example of how those with opposing viewpoints can come together, disagree agreeably, and sometimes arrive at a more creative higher ground.  Moreover, in 2005, the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress published the first edition of its Declaration on Civility and Inclusive Leadership.  Signed by the National Committee to Unite a Divided America made up of over 200 prominent Americans of all political stripes, the Declaration calls for civility and inclusive leadership in American governance.  The Committee, co-chaired by former Ambassadors David Abshire and Max Kampelman, who have both served in Republican and Democrat administrations, states that “civility and inclusive leadership are proven means of bridging political divisions and forging national unity and commitment.”  According to the Declaration, civility does not require citizens to give up their cherished beliefs, but it does require respect, listening and trust when interacting with those who hold differing viewpoints.

Now more than ever, this is a time for the country to come together as the country navigates significant domestic and international challenges that threaten our long-term security and prosperity.

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