Civilization requires civility. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again — if we want to get our economy back on track and move our nation forward, we absolutely must put partisanship aside and put our country first.
More than two years ago, former Congressman Jim Leach came to North Carolina as part of his 50-state Civility Tour. Mr. Leach served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years, and he traveled to every state to highlight the ways in which government can work better by simply working first to remain civil and get along. We can learn a lot from the way Leach conducted himself, both as a member of Congress and from his campaign for civil and political discourse. Unfortunately, in the two years since his tour, too few people have taken his message to heart. The fact remains that the American people want action from their government, and they are tired of uncivil behavior derailing real progress.
In the past few years, our political landscape has become increasingly divisive and the rhetoric has become more and more inflamed and polarizing. During my travels, I hear from a lot of people who are tired of the Washington bickering and sniping. They want to know what they can do to let our elected leaders know that the constant discord must end. It’s beyond time to join together to take on the many challenges our nation faces. The most frustrating part of my job is the partisan bickering and division, which leaves little room for work to be completed when so many people are spending time working first to make their colleagues look bad or gain political points.
There are many members of Congress who choose not to engage in the ugly rhetoric and disrespectful tone, but it seems that the work they do rarely makes the headlines. There are folks on both sides of the aisle who are capable of being civil, and I, along with many others, are committed to acting with civility to solve our nation’s challenges. We celebrated our nation’s birthday this past week, and I can’t think of a better time for us to remember that our democracy is based on the fundamental ideal that it is your right to question your government and petition it for change. The greatest achievement in a democratic civilization is the ability to do that peacefully, and we absolutely must do it with respect and civility. Only then can we solve our nation’s problems.
Our nation is facing serious challenges as we work to get our economy back on track and finish the war in Afghanistan. When I think about all of those who have sacrificed and shed blood for our freedom, I know that we can do better. I joined with veterans from throughout our district this Independence Day, and their stories and accounts of what they went through on behalf of our nation should serve as a lesson to us all. The blood that has been shed and the lives that have been lost on foreign soil, in the name of preservation of our government and our freedom, must never be forgotten. We understand that freedom is not free, yet too often some folks do a great disservice to those who paid the cost by trivializing the very freedoms preserved for us in the names of those who have fallen. We can all do better.
As our nation works toward solutions to the challenges we face, we must never forget our responsibility to be civil to our brothers and sisters in this great democracy. As Mr. Leach said during his visit, “Words matter. Just as polarizing attitudes can jeopardize social cohesion and even public safety, healing approaches such as (President) Lincoln’s call for a new direction ‘with malice toward none’ can uplift and help bring society and the world closer together.”
We should all take Mr. Leach’s message to heart. We have an obligation to set an example in civil and civic discourse. We must not be afraid of vigorous debate on the issues upon which we disagree, while never forsaking the utmost respect and reverence for others and their views. We have serious issues before us that we’ll never solve if we can’t sit down and discuss them. The importance of listening during these discussions is a lesson we must all understand and practice. If everyone is talking, often times nobody is listening. Until we better practice that give-and-take of democracy that built our nation and keeps us free, we will only slowly make progress on the issues we face. I will continue to do my best to uphold the principles of civic discourse while working for you in Washington.
Congressman Larry Kissell (D-N.C. -8) offices include Rockingham: 230 East Franklin St., Rockingham, N.C. 28379, Phone: 997-2070; Concord number (704) 786-1612; Fayetteville number (910) 920-2070; Washington office: 1632 Longworth HOB, Washington, D.C. 20515; phone (202) 225-3715. Web site, kissell.house.gov.