People have told me several times recently how dismayed they are at a growing lack of civility in political discourse. They’ve said to me that it’s never seemed as bad as it is now.
This is my cue to remind them that 206 years ago in 1804, sitting Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr shot and killed former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in an honest-to-goodness duel with real guns over political insults which included Hamilton calling Burr “despicable” and too dangerous to be fit for office. Let’s picture for a second Joe Biden shooting Timothy Geithner. Or perhaps more entertaining, Dick Cheney taking out Henry Paulson.
So I’m not buying it. But an episode Tuesday night proves there’s always an exception. I ran across a discussion between San Diego County Taxpayers Association President Lani Lutar and San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez on Lani’s Facebook page. Earlier, an SDCTA staff member spoke in favor of a pension reform proposal before the city council in National City. After the meeting, this young woman was followed to her car and threatened by public employees angry about having their benefits reduced. She reported it to her boss, Lani. Lani expressed her outrage about the incident. Lorena posted a response that in essence said, “hey, what do you expect?” The exchange got heated enough that Lorena deleted her original post, apparently having thought the better of it. But Lani re-posted it herself.
People feeling the ground shift under their feet when the facts no longer support their position feel threatened and frustrated and are tempted to lash out. I get that. But people who are completely secure in the rightness of any belief don’t ever feel threatened. They don’t ever feel the need to go after someone personally, much less professionally. They simply make their case and find new ways to communicate the reasons why their position is the superior one.
Those who get angry and frustrated show their hand. They know they’re going down to defeat and it’s only a matter of time. But there is never any justification for threats. NONE. Whatever side you’re on, no matter what issue, sincere political activists need to call out those who engage in this behavior and condemn them. Their leaders need to rein them in fast or risk serious damage to their cause and their reputation. They end up doing themselves more harm that any of their so-called “enemies.”
The free and respectful exchange of ideas, negotiation and compromise are what lead to real solutions that everyone can live with. The late Wendell Cutting, former staff member to Congressman Duncan Hunter and an elected mayor and community college board member, was fond of saying “Good people can disagree without being disagreeable.” Perhaps having terminal cancer and outliving your fatal diagnosis for years longer than anyone expected has a way of making you focus on what’s important, and what’s right. Those are words to live by.
NOTE: You can read the dialogue here and judge for yourself.