On Wednesday, Sept. 9, as President Obama was giving his health care address to both sessions of Congress, Congressman Joe Wilson, Republican from South Carolina, shouted, “You lie,” when President Obama denied that health care legislation would provide free coverage for illegal aliens.
Biology major, Dania Diaz, a 21-year-old senior at CSUN said, “I was in the bedroom studying, when I heard him say, ‘You lie.’ I was surprised. I would have expected it at a town hall meeting, but not in the Congress or directed at the president.”
In June 2004, then Vice President Dick Cheney, told Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont to “Go f— yourself,” on the Senate floor.
What has happened to civility in this country, and particularly in the houses of Congress? Let’s get back to the basics of civility.
Civility is defined by Webster’s dictionary as a polite act of expression. We can express ourselves, but we can do it politely.
As President Obama said on 60 Minutes, Sunday, Sept. 13:
“One of the things I’m trying to figure out is, how can we make sure that civility is interesting. And, you know, hopefully, I will be a good model for the fact that, you know, you don’t have to yell and holler to make your point, and to be passionate about your position.”
When asked how we could get so far off the mark from the original framers of the Constitution, Dr. John Kephart, professor of communications and director of forensics at CSUN, said, “When politics becomes a matter of winning and losing and not a matter of solving problems, then politics becomes uncivil. When we focus on our opponent’s differences instead of both of our similarities, then politics becomes uncivil.”
Dr. Kephart went on to say, “We are all on the same stream, just standing on different banks. It is only through civility and deliberation that we can iron out our problems and come to a solution agreeable to both parties.”
If civility is the environment, then deliberation is the mechanism for opposing parties working together to solve the problems of our society.
According to the Web site of the Center for Public Deliberation at Colorado State University, deliberation is an approach to politics where citizens come together and consider facts and values from multiple points of view. It’s where they take these varying points of view and seek some conclusion for action in the form of reasoned public judgment.
The center states that for democracy to thrive, decision-makers need to confront the complexity of issues and attempt to balance competing values, not to distract from them. Such considerations are at the heart of deliberation. The practice of deliberation is the cornerstone of democracy. Deliberation connects people in a way that allows them to make decisions. The benefit of deliberation is that new possibilities for action can come up between opposing forces that neither side had seen before. That is the beauty of deliberation and that is the beauty of democracy.
When various points of view are considered and discussed, in structured discussion and debate, the result is reasoned judgment.
Many of our current politicians are afraid to let a new idea emerge. They cling to their points of view, leaving no room for compromise or new thoughts to evolve. Our current atmosphere is so tense and so toxic, there is no room for growth or room for evolving ideas, just stubborn, resistant points of view.
In an earlier reference, Senator Leahy had criticized Vice President Cheney’s former company Halliburton for war profiteering in Iraq. Vice President Cheney took offense at that. Senator Leahy was trying to be civil toward Vice President Cheney, but Cheney was unreceptive with Senator Leahy. He couldn’t stand the inconsistency of criticism and friendship.
Vice President Cheney stated, “…he’s (Leahy) the kind of individual who will make those kinds of charges and then come act as though he’s your best friend, and I expressed in no uncertain terms my views of his conduct and walked away.”
How can we have dialogue, if we just walk away? How can we have a meaningful discussion if we are not there? How can we deliberate if we are not there? Our politicians need to stay around and try and be more receptive. We all have a point of view. We can all express it. We can work together to come to an understanding, a new idea, that neither one of us had seen before, but if we are not there, how can we?
Let’s get back to the basics of civility and public deliberation in an attempt to solve the problems of our society.