Saturday, October 20, 2012

Withering civility in a testy political season

We are only a few weeks away from the presidential election, and civility continues to erode when it comes to discussing the important issues of the day.

This is not happening just among the candidates running for office, but among people like you and me. On the bright side, it is good that people are feeling so passionately about the issues, but the end result of this passion is that we appear to be becoming more polarized than ever.
Let us look at the candidates in the presidential race. We are definitely seeing an overload of negative campaigning and attempts to make the other look like a royal idiot. Some negativity is acceptable, but the key is balance.
When it comes to negativity, it is perfectly okay for candidates to criticize the records of their opponents. For example, it is fine for President Barack Obama to be critical of Mitt Romney’s stances on issues and other parts of his political background. Equally, Romney has the right to go after Obama’s track record as president and be critical when appropriate.
However, where they both go wrong is when the attacks get personal and try to reduce the other to nothing more than a cartoon figure. For months, the Obama campaign has painted Romney as a rich guy who does not pay his taxes and does not care about the middle class.
On the other hand, the Romney campaign has played the same game by trying to reduce Obama to nothing more than an empty suit who is aloof and really has nothing of substance to say.
This lack of civility was also on display during the vice presidential debate. Vice President Joe Biden repeatedly laughed and sneered as his opponent Paul Ryan tried to make his points. Seriously, did Biden really think it would be effective to laugh while a serious discussion about Iran’s nuclear capabilities was taking place? It was another low moment in a campaign of lows.
Of course, this lack of civility has a trickle down effect. We see it take place through the mainstream media every day. Conflict is the mother’s milk of the 24-hour news channels where opponents verbally duke it out in a vain attempt to make points.
I really do not understand how this became such a popular technique for the networks to use. The conflict often overtakes the points trying to be made. Because of this, viewers are turned off and the words spoken by those people often come across like the braying of donkeys.
The trickle down effect also flows down to the general public. I recently read a story on the Cable News Network’s web site that stated one-fifth of the people who use social media have ended on-line friendships simply because of political disagreements.
A person could make the point that a friendship must not have been very meaningful if it was ended because of a political difference, but I have seen relationships severed for a lot less than that.
The bottom line is our nation has become more and more polarized in recent years when it comes to political issues. We choose sides and become enemies if people have the audacity to see issues differently than we do.
It is a crying shame that it has come to this. It used to be that the deepest relationships we had with people were ones where we could sharply disagree but still have dinner afterward.
However, it is not too late. We can all step back from the ledge we are looking over if we become a little less focused on ourselves and more on other people. This is an old recipe for happiness, but it still works.

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