As an eighteen-year-old, I was excited to vote in my first election. I took my job as voter very seriously: I read all the candidates’ bios in the newspaper, studied the sample ballot, wrote my choices on a sheet of paper that I carried with me into the voting booth.
Things are different now. The past few election cycles have left me disturbed. It’s not the policies or candidates per se that disturb me; it’s the hatred and contempt for the opposition shown by practically every candidate.
In 2009, Republican businessman and political adviser Mark DeMoss and Democratic lobbyist and former Clinton aide Lanny Davis attempted to begin a project they called the Civility Project. They wrote to all members of Congress and state governors, asking them to sign a pledge. Here’s what the pledge was:
I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it.
Out of 585 politicians, guess how many signed the pledge?
Thousands of citizens signed the pledge, but others attacked it. Some responded to DeMoss and Davis with name calling and rants about communism, complete with foul language.
When I read this, I almost cried. This isn’t a terribly high bar for civil behavior, yet only three leaders agreed enough to sign the pledge? How am I supposed to vote for candidates like this? How am I supposed to have respect for leaders who show no respect for those they disagree with?
Let’s face it. If these leaders and would-be leaders were children and they behaved this way at school, many schools would call it “bullying” or “harassment” and suspensions would be in order. If my children said the kind of things that I’ve heard political leaders say, I would discipline them.
All I want are leaders that have integrity and good ideas for running the country. And a big part of integrity is having respect for others, whether that looks like protecting others’ dignity by keeping your hands off them or refusing to denigrate their character even when you strongly disagree with their stance on an issue. It’s perfectly possible to disagree with another person and not sling mud at them. Not easy, but possible. But I haven’t seen it happen in any election.
I’m tempted not to vote.
I can’t pretend that all the horrible things that are said pre-election don’t show what type of character the candidate has. It doesn’t matter if it’s their political party sponsoring the smear-tactic ads; ultimately, the candidate bears responsibility for what is said. I can’t divorce the tenor of the campaign from the type of person the candidate is. It says something. It means something.
First, I realize that I have a responsibility to vote. People have fought and died for the freedom to vote, and it’s not a privilege to be taken lightly. For that very reason, I want to cast my vote wisely, for a candidate that I can respect, not just “the lesser of the two evils.” Why should a hard-won freedom be wasted on electing another sleazy politician?
Second, I know that someone will suggest that I stop complaining and be a part of the solution. But politics really don’t interest me. I have no leadership ability, no desire to run for office, and no good ideas for fixing a hole in drywall, much less the mess of Washington. I don’t want to campaign for a candidate because there’s no one I would feel morally justified in campaigning for.
If Mark DeMoss and Lanny Davis can’t get political leaders to agree to stop mud-slinging and show respect, I know my words won’t make an iota of difference.
But here’s where I’ll make my plea to my readers. If you hold strong opinions—political or otherwise—please be careful how you express them. Sarcasm and belittling comments say more about the speaker than the object of ridicule.
Show respect for the opposition, even if it’s difficult. Especially if it’s difficult.
There are many things worth fighting for. But there is no need to resort to name calling or sarcasm or false accusations in the process.
Note: For Christians who are interested in politics, I highly recommend Amy E. Black’s article “The Cure of Election Madness” in the January 2012 issue of Christianity Today magazine. I received the information about DeMoss and Davis and their Civility Project there. The pledge (in quotes) is directly from the CT article.