In the wake of the emotional and impressive memorial service to honor the six killed and 13 wounded in Tucson at the hands of a deranged gunman, the conventional wisdom is that despite pleas for civility, we will return to the pre-shooting days of yelling, screaming and highly charged partisanship.
In his speech to the nation, President Barack Obama, acting as the healer in chief, called on all Americans to rise above the nonsense of making politics a rhetorical blood sport and instead have a civil debate on the issues.
“I believe we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here — they help me believe,” said President Obama. “We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.”
The knee-jerk reaction from many in the call for civility is to say that the First Amendment gives them the right to say what they want and when they want. But the right to freedom of speech also gives all of us the right to say “no” and “you’re not going to talk to me that way.” We can probe and debate yet we can do so without all the rancor and bitterness.
I found it laughable to listen to my media colleagues talk about this need for civility, yet many of us fan those flames by booking, promoting and giving more airtime to those who rant and scream at the top of their lungs. In the world of TV and radio, you’ll hear someone say, “Now that was a hot discussion! Can you come back tomorrow night?” Forget that the discussion ended up as being nothing but an attack on the other person, savagely ripping into “those liberals” or “those conservatives.” What often happens is the issue at hand is ignored, and folks walk away from a fight where no one benefits.
I’ve never been one who has shied away from being passionate about an issue, but as a responsible individual, I always accept the reality that what I say matters. People do listen. Folks form opinions based on what is said. And we can ramp up their blood pressure higher and higher or we can say, “That was a spirited debate.
Now let’s go and get a drink.”
If we want to embrace the notion of civility and humility in our discourse, it means not falling into our old habits. I was impressed that Roger Ailes, head of Fox News Channel, relayed to Russell Simmons’ GlobalGrind.com what he told his staff after the Tucson shootings: “I told all of our guys, shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually. You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.”
Who knows if this edict will be photocopied and posted in the office of every Fox talk show host — and throughout its newsroom — to serve as a reminder to everyone when the nation moves further away from the shooting.
And Ailes is correct that those who vehemently oppose the views of Fox News and conservative radio hosts must also adhere to the president’s call for civility. Maybe we should all make “Remember Gabby and the Tucson 6″ buttons, T-shirts and bumper stickers, as a way to stop someone in their tracks that chooses to become out of control.
It was the attempted political assassination of the moderate Arizona Democrat Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that ended up costing six people their lives and leaving another 12 wounded.
In an e-mail a day before the shooting, it was Giffords herself who openly discussed the toxic political dialogue that resulted in death threats against her.
“After you get settled, I would love to talk about what we can do to promote centrism and moderation. I am one of only 12 Dems left in a GOP district (the only woman) and think that we need to figure out how to tone our rhetoric and partisanship down,” Giffords wrote to Republican Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson to congratulate him on being named director of Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
Yes, we know the actions of the mentally ill shooter weren’t tied to the heated political rhetoric played out on radio, TV and online, but it still isn’t a healthy environment.
But as she heads for a long recovery from being shot in the head, “Remember Gabby and the Tucson 6″ should constantly ring in our ears.
Let’s have vigorous debates over the issues. But let’s do so as adults, not as petulant and out-of-control children.
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and the author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as originally reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at www.RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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