Civilization requires civility." It is a message that we need to hear throughout our country.
In the past few years, our political landscape has become increasingly divisive and the rhetoric has become polarized. During my travels, I hear from a lot of people who are tired of the Washington bickering and sniping. They want to know what they can do to let our elected leaders know that the time for discord is over.
Last week, I had the opportunity to hear former U.S. Representative Jim Leach's speech during the Charlotte stop of his 50-state Civility Tour at the Levine Museum of the New South. The Chairman of the National Endowment of the Humanities, Leach is a 30-year veteran of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Leach is taking his message of civility in civic discourse across this nation. We can learn a lot from the way Leach conducted himself as a member of Congress and from his current message. The American people want action from their Congress and they are tired of uncivil behavior derailing real progress.
I have often said that my least favorite part of the job is the partisan bickering and division in Washington. There are many members of Congress who choose not to engage in the ugly rhetoric and disrespectful debate. Most members are able to discuss and debate our differing views without resorting to name calling and contempt.
I spoke with Mr. Leach after his remarks and told him about a recent visit to Washington by some friends of mine. I was taking them around on a tour and introduced them to several Members of Congress and asked them afterward if they could tell me who the Republicans were and who the Democrats were. They couldn't and I told them that was a good example of how most Members interact with one another and that even though Congress doesn't look civil on television and that it looks like it is all partisan bickering, that folks are capable of being civil and that I, along with many others, are committed to acting with civility to solve our nation's challenges.
Our democracy is based on the fundamental ideal that it is your right to question your government and petition it for change. The greatest achievement in a democratic civilization is the ability to challenge the ideas of others with respect and civility.
Our nation is facing serious challenges as we struggle to right the economic crisis and finish the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. More and more people are becoming involved in their government and paying attention to the legislative process. As a former civics teacher, it is wonderful to see.
But as our nation works toward solutions to the challenges we face, we must never forget our responsibility to be civil to our brothers and sisters in this great democracy. As Leach said, "Words matter. Just as polarizing attitudes can jeopardize social cohesion and even public safety, healing approaches such as (President) Lincoln's call for a new direction "with malice toward none' can uplift and help bring society and the world closer together."
As leaders, all Members of Congress should take Leach's message to heart. We have an obligation to set an example in civic discourse. We must not be afraid of vigorous debate on the issues on which we disagree while never forsaking the utmost respect and reverence for others and their views. We have serious issues before us that we'll never solve if we can't sit down and discuss them.
While our nation will always have political parties and there will always be disagreements, making sure that we bring civility back to the forefront of public debate is a critical step in moving forward as a nation.
I will continue to do my best to uphold the principles of civic discourse while fighting for you in Washington.