Also published in MinnPost
A new civility movement is spreading like wildfire in American culture. Whether it engulfs enough American hearts to change a national mindset riddled by polarized views remains unclear. But evidence is mounting that now is the time. Unprecedented discussions are emerging from partisan media, PACs and Think Tanks. Some recent evolutions:
Once upon a time the mention of a commentary by a Wall Street Journal conservative in the text of a New York Times commentary was unheard of, save for the occasional “gotcha” debate dig. Media models don’t usually support cross-marketing contrarian competitors’ opinions.
The good news is partisan voices are changing models. The bad news is partisan-fueled rage is the newsworthy reason. Regardless why, the news is progress that beats the alternative of more news featuring regressive rhetoric.
Consider the voices of Frank Rich and Michael Medved, both known partisans with big bully pulpits.
In his essay The G.O.P.’s Post-Tucson Traumatic Stress Disorder Rich notes “civility has had a mini-restoration in Washington.” He points out popular leaders’ whose trash-talk styles are costing them revenues and ratings losses.
Most remarkably, Rich cites columnist competitor Medved’s essay Obama Isn’t Trying to ‘Weaken America.
In it, Medved calls out the destructive tactics of numerous conservative media favorites. Medved gets extra points for favorable mentions of Democrat leaders and for pointing out that working with political foes is a prudent strategy.
Which recalls fellow columnist David Brooks’ plaintive: “How can you say you love your country if you hate half of it?” plea that punctuated his November 2010 essay “National Greatness Agenda” in the New York Times column . Brooks connect-the-middles between political poles position is sadly more poignant in hindsight of the Arizona shootings.
This and other evidence suggest a cross-ideological tone is taking hold. And provides hope that humane rhetoric is increasingly perceived as a politically productive endeavor. Best of all it is being modeled and propagated by pundits from both sides.
While high-level media gives hard-to-miss hope, quieter evidence is echoing, if not leading the change, too.
Among the most compelling comes from video of young conservatives who took a party leader to task at a large political action convention in Denver. Stunned by his exclusionary remarks and refusal to listen to their reasonable arguments, the crowd forced the fringe leader to remove his party identity and summarily ran him off.
Meanwhile in Minnesota this week, progressives joined conservatives for what was billed as an “Uncommon Quest for Common Ground” event to make connections between beloved civil rights leader Hubert H. Humphrey and far right favorite Republican Ronald Reagan.
The event was co-sponsored by (as its invitation teased) “odd-bedfellows.” Three Democratic groups, including the public policy school at the University of Minnesota named after Humphrey and three Republican groups, including a well-known think-tank.
The title Ronald Reagan and Hubert Humphrey Together Again would likely make both leaders roll in their graves, but the question is: would they roll in distress or glee? One hopes the latter.
Vice President Walter Mondale, who joined the equally bipartisan-weighted panel, made clear that his close colleague Humphrey would be appalled if his lifelong efforts for civil rights were undermined by the unprecedented event if all it amounts to is superficial public relations symbolism.
Mondale’s passion gets at an essential point. Cross-the-aisle cross-pollination is productive only when it transcends positive (if necessarily) superficial images to infiltrate transformative public-good policy.
And if it only amounts to baby-steps bipartisanship or expedient PR at this point, party leaders from both sides must begin believing – and quick – in the deeper possibilities that living up to their positive press could produce.
Cooperative democracy should never be just an experimental exercise in creative marketing strategies.
This is serious work that serious leaders must do for all citizens, regardless of party or predicament. To achieve the intent of our Constitutional mandate for all—which, remember, includes our future and pluralistic posterity.
We should hope they will some day look back and remember these times as a transformative “once upon a time” when bi-partisan leaders set aside contrarian strategies and got cracking for their common good.