On Civility

This past weekend I watched the old black and white movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. It is a story about an idealistic and respectful young man appointed by the state Governor to replace a U.S. Senator that died suddenly.  The elite in power thought he would just be a patsy, voting whichever way they directed. When he surprised him by standing up against the corruption, they tried to smear his good name in order to get him out of the way. When Senator Smith got discouraged, ready to give up and go home, it was his friend Clarissa that encouraged him to press on. She claimed that not all men in Washington were corrupt; those that were just threw long shadows over all the rest.  Although it was made over 70 years ago, it might as well have been made yesterday.

It is very easy to throw everyone into a group, and either condemn or praise accordingly. It is my opinion that those who do so are either intentionally divisive or intellectually lazy. Neither option is good for America, as the end result tears our nation apart. Everything that happens, good or bad, can be broken down to individual choices, not groups.  Basically, it all boils down to people, and the individual decisions they choose to make.  Like the character Clarissa, I believe that there are still good leaders out there, it is just that the bad ones overshadow the rest, no matter the political party.

Americans wonder why it is necessary to paint everyone with such a broad negative brush, when there is enough evidence to the contrary. We are tired of hearing things like “racist tea partiers”, “selfish union members”, and “evil corporations” as an excuse to avoid legitimate debate on the issues. I know that both sides are passionate about their beliefs, but why must some smear a whole group of people in order to get their ideas across? Do they really think anyone is listening to such divisive language? Americans don’t like it when whole groups are condemned to make a talking point, as no one is ever always anything. Every group has their token idiots, but when you focus on those individuals to prove a talking point, then you are the one that ends up looking like the idiot.

Using personal, disrespectful, and destructive smears to make a point is not a winning strategy, it is a lazy one. Americans are tired of either being bullied from the political pulpit or having the proverbial fist thrust our faces. We want solutions to our problems without throwing anyone – especially us easily forgotten taxpayers – under the bus. We certainly expect there to be different ideas on how to go about doing this, but want an open healthy debate, not continual mud-slinging or things done behind closed doors when the public isn’t looking. Good ideas should be strong enough to stand on their own, out in the open, don’t you think? Resorting to nastiness and whining is unproductive, childish, and insulting to everyone.  Taxpayers not only deserve better, we know better.

I think we need more Mr. Smiths in Washington…. Iowa too.

“I guess this is just another lost cause, Mr. Paine. All you people don’t know about lost causes. Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for. And he fought for them once, for the only reason any man ever fights for them; because of just one plain simple rule: ‘Love thy neighbor.’“ Jefferson Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart, in the 1939 movie, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

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