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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Sooner the Better

After failing to secure a place in the Republican Primary, three-term Senator Bob Bennett declined to seek reappointment as a write-in candidate so as to not “divide the state.” His actions are admirable, yet the circumstances surrounding his defeat lead to many questions about the role of unity in politics.

The struggle for unity in politics has always been a problem. The word itself refers to the use of intrigue and strategy in the search for power. Divisiveness is a natural byproduct when there are competing claims to positions of authority. And yet, it is not necessary to wholly discard unity in the process.

Just as Senator Bennett recognized the threat to unity within the state, George Washington warned of a similar danger at the conclusion of his second term as President. In his farewell address, Washington stated that he would not seek another term in office. He then turned his attention to the issue of unity, citing the virtue as an essential component of a free society. He warned of the dangers of party politics and pled that they be set aside for the good of the country.

And Washington was right. Unity is essential to freedom, to independence, and to liberty. It makes the weak strong and the strong even stronger. And yet the stark reality is that there are some issues upon which we simply cannot agree. There are times for compromise and then there are times to stand fast. If unity is so important, what is to be done during those times when our ideologies are seemingly more incompatible than ever?

The answer is simple, although like most good ideas, it is much easier said than done. The way to preserve unity when no agreement can be reached is to engage in civility.

Civility entails so much of what we do not see in today’s increasingly vitriolic political discourse. Civility respects the messenger while disagreeing with the message. It does not require the use of four-letter words, loud voices which negate the need for stereo speakers, or the manipulation of facts designed to induce fear. When it comes to politics, civility says, “I see where you are coming from, but I respectfully disagree.” 

The tone of the current election cycle is not easily characterized as civil. In fact, Senator Bennett referred to the current Republican Primary as “the nastiest race that we have had for a party nomination in the history of the state of Utah for a statewide office.” His views are likely shared by many other candidates and voters participating in elections across the country.

While the use of uncivil rhetoric and strategies may prove effective for getting one elected, there are associated dangers. As already pointed out, unity (which is strengthened by civility), is essential for maintaining liberty. Additionally, the lack of civility can threaten party power. As the use of uncivil rhetoric rises, voters who agree with the message find themselves increasingly turned off by the messenger. This is evidenced in part by the number of Republicans in Utah who leave the party to become Independents. There are short-term benefits to forsaking civility, but the long-term effects are much more precarious.

We live in troublesome times. We face difficult challenges. It is not possible to always agree. But let us, as voters, and as citizens of Utah, set an example of civility as we engage in the civic duty of politics. To do so will help preserve the unity upon which our country was founded. And the sooner, the better.

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