Last Monday night (06-18-2013) I attended a speech at Stamford, Connecticut’s Ferguson Library delivered by Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was visiting Connecticut to make another speech about gun control laws and how the gun manufacturing industry is going to be affected by the new post Sandy Hook gun laws. Governor Perry would like them to relocate to Texas. But this speech was not about gun control. In fact, it was not a political speech, but rather a sociopolitical speech. I would like to share some of what I learned Monday evening.
The speech was sponsored by The Dylan Schenider Group as part of their Civility in America Series. Governor Perry took time from his busy schedule to be a guest speaker for this group and the speech was about civility and the need for people to be more civil towards each other in spite of differences in all areas including politics. Before Mr. Schneider introduced the governor, he mentioned that 70% of Americans are frustrated with the tone of the political parties, 75% are negative, and 90% believe political rivals attach each other too much. The consensus is that campaigns are too long, making instability the rule, and that the political parties are too concerned with victory (getting one of theirs elected regardless), rather than the concerns of the American way of life. It got me thinking. If something is going to be put into motion to change this, is civility where the rubber meets the road?
A much more maligned and humble man than we saw in Republican debates in the early winter of 2011 and continuing until he dropped out of the 2012 presidential race, the governor began by saying that civility is an American ideal dating back to America’s roots as a nation. He went on to quote Ben Franklin that everyone should be a friend to everyone. Franklin warned us that political party affiliation was (and is) a necessary evil to ensure both sides of all issues are represented, but to not allow us to create a permanent campaign culture, as this leads to winning taking precedence over the needs of the nation. The result is we lack civility and we do whatever it takes (lie, cheat, steal) to win. The governor points out that one does not have to change his or her viewpoints to be civil to those with opposite views. Perhaps if we show a little civility and our elected officials to local, state, and national politics do the same, we can achieve more and whether the liberal, conservative, or bipartisan solution is implemented, its selection can be the result of the Platonian Dialectic and not by two parties fighting to win and stronger, but not necessarily the better ultimately wins. The governor went on to quote Winston Churchill when he said a lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can put its pants on.
If civility was truly an America ideal set forth by our Founding Fathers, the problem is it was not fueled properly from the very inception. How can one be civil and justify slavery? That was after all, America’s one and only birth defect as a nation. Thomas Jefferson, the man who insisted all men are created equal was a slave owner. While good handshakes, hat tipping, speaking kind words in a comforting southern drawl, and helping a old lady cross the street are steps in the right direction, they do not change our viewpoints and opinions and we still know in our hearts we have many differences and disagreements. Furthermore, there are plenty of kind, considerate, friendly people who are crooks, connivers, thieves, and hypocrites at heart. Actions will always speak louder than words. The late John Gotti was one of the nicest man you could ever meet. So was Bernie Madoff. Their civility did not stop them from achieving their respective notoriety, it just provided a vehicle, as Dale Carnegie said, to make friends and influence people. But they were who they were.
If we are do get things done in Washington (as well as at the local and state levels), our elected officials should be more civil when they communicate with each other, be it in person, email, text, or tweet. But neither side should just simply surrender to the other side just for the sake of civility. This does not start up the Platonian Dialectic, it shuts it down. If everyone agrees, the only two possibilities are everybody is right or everybody is wrong and if everybody is wrong, everybody thinks they’re right. Civil? Yes. But also perfunctory.
Where the rubber meets the road! Civility is that good set of Michelins you put on your car to handle whatever [tribulations] the road can dish out; potholes, cracks, grooved pavement, and worn and rough pavement. We can disagree in a civil manner. We can dislike what a person stands for on a given issue or issues, but still like, respect, and even admire the person. Ronald Reagan believed before he was elected in 1980 that Franklin Roosevelt was the best president in his lifetime. Granted he was a liberal Democrat when he was acting and president of the Screen Actors Guild, but did not change his mind when he switched to the Republican party and became the conservative governor and president we all remember him. He told the late Mike Wallace in a Sixty Minutes interview once, one does not become a leader by what he does, but by what he causes others to do. Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were two diametrically opposed politicians, but were both extremely civil human beings.
Politics notwithstanding, it is extremely important all of us behave in a civil manner; especially in the age of the Internet and social media. When one chooses such an outlet to communicate ideas, myself included as I am a blogger, it is important not only in what we say but how we say it, because accountability is very limited on these media and what little does exist is very difficult to enforce. Cyber bullying, lies, and reasons to try stupid and dangerous things make it to such media without any checkpoints, such as a book publisher, publisher of a newspaper, and other top people in older media forms. I love to express my conservative viewpoints, but I always look for the kindest, gentlest way possible and I hope my The 7 Train will always be a civil outlet for such communication.
I am a Republican conservative, not as conservative as most of the Tea Party. But this is a part of what I am made of below level 3. I am one of God’s children first (Level 1 = God), a family member second (Level 2 = Family), and an American third (Level 3 = Country). Governor Perry has good points and flaws, just like the rest of us. But I tip my hat to him for reintroducing America to civility and I believe the fuel the vehicle of civility runs best on is people committing to living a properly vertically aligned life in accord with the three levels I mentioned above.
Civility. Where the rubber meets the road!