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Polite Politics

January 27th, 2011

According to a recent New York Times article, “Mary from Louisiana asked Olympia from Maine because they are BFFs, but had a backup in Bob from Tennessee in case she was rebuffed.”

A few questions may arise from this introduction. Who are Mary, Olympia and Bob? Where are they going? Well, they are United States senators and they were asking each other out on a date to the president’s State of the Union address.

In the wake of the tragic shooting in Tucson, in which six people died and 13 were injured, including Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, discussion was sparked about the tone of political debate in this country. Both the left and right were quick to point fingers at each other for using mean, sometimes violent, rhetoric.

This tone seems to be a norm in our political culture, exemplified in the midterm elections last fall. Negative political ads attacking the other side ran rampant. It’s also hard to forget the infamous health care town hall meetings in the summer of 2009, where people angrily yelled at their representatives.

With a divided government now, it seemed that the polarization in Washington would only increase. However, the shooting in Tucson happened just as the new Congress was taking control and hot-button issues like repealing the health care law were put on the back burner for a moment.

Following tragedies, people unify. They are much more careful about what they say. They are kinder to one another.

Following this trend, politicians are unifying – at least for a while. Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall suggested that politicians reach across the isle to sit with a colleague from the other party. Hence, Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu asked Republican Senator Olympia Snowe, according to the New York Times, to sit with her at the event.

Sitting with each other, rather than Democrats sitting on one side of the chamber and Republicans sitting on the other side, is supposed to be a symbolic, unifying gesture made by our lawmakers to promote civility.

Call me a cynic, but I doubt that simply sitting together will result in harmony between Democrats and Republicans, at least not a harmony that will last long. I think sitting together is a nice gesture, but it doesn’t accomplish anything.

If we want there to be  more civility, lawmakers should curb the vicious speech about each other. I’m not suggesting that Democrats and Republicans hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” Let’s face it, that would be ridiculous and if you’re anything like me you find that song really annoying.

They don’t have to agree on policy; in fact, they probably never will. Many lawmakers view things fundamentally different – taxes, health care, etc. and how involved the government should or shouldn’t be.  In all honesty, I don’t want them to agree. One of the great things about the United States is that we have a variety of opinions that are voiced. I like that there are opposing views on every issue. It allows me to consider both sides of an issue and then decide if I agree with either extreme or fall somewhere in the middle.

However, I don’t like when the debate veers away from the issue at hand and becomes about the person or correctness of ideology. It would be nice if they would just debate the issue. Have an argument, have the reasons for supporting it and debate it on those grounds. You don’t need to attack each other because it doesn’t accomplish anything. It incites more anger and hostility in people.

I enjoy learning about issues that affect our lives and our communities. I get excited to vote every November. I am proud to be (somewhat) aware of what’s happening around me. It’s difficult to like politics when it becomes so divisive.

We’ve had a reprieve from the harsh political rhetoric. I hope it stays that way, but like I said call me a cynic.

I’m sure the name-calling and negativity will soon ensue. Congress will be haggling over program cuts. After that, politicians will be gearing up for 2012 election campaigns.

Although I don’t foresee it, I hope that our lawmakers can maintain this civility and simply debate the issues.