I don't usually do this, as I think it is my place to provide information and not to give you my personal opinion. However, in this instance, I cannot remain silent. My comments have to do with civility--yes, that time-worn, biblical adage about treating others as you would have yourself be treated. I am referring here to the CD8 debate we hosted the other night.
Since the recent CD 8 debate many people have commented on the proceedings. The most common response I have heard so far is “Wow, that was crazy!” The people who made that repeated comment weren’t talking about the high level of discourse, or the candor of the candidates. They were talking about the audience.
The official count of those who attended and watched the debate in person was 1500. A new record for a live event hosted by Arizona Public Media. And I have to admit that I was happy to see that many people give up Monday Night Football, the Major League Baseball playoffs, and Dancing with the Stars to come out and take an active part in our democracy. By the end of the night I wasn’t so sure. Big crowds at political events mean big cheers and jeers. That is to be expected. But the anger was not.
Many of us remember the town hall on health care meetings two summers ago, which were marked not by the listening and passing along of information but instead by shouting, name calling, and insults. If you missed those town halls, just watch some members of the crowd at the CD 8 debate. There were calls of “bottom feeder” and “what about the Ponzi scheme” directed at the candidates. There was the woman in the white Giffords t-shirt who shouted comments at Jesse Kelly while he tried to answer questions; there was the man in the purple shirt who also tried to shout down Kelly. The police ended up talking with him. But don’t think it was just the supporters of Gabrielle Giffords causing the uproar--there were plenty of Kelly supporters who engaged in the same activity. The man in the blue denim shirt and Kelly hat who made enough comments during Giffords’ answers that even Kelly staffers were forced to turn around and “shhh” him. And the voice yelling “you lied” at Giffords from the back of the room.
It seems we can no longer simply agree to disagree on things. We have to shout the other side down, we have to make it personal, we have to be more intimidating even when it means letting respect fall by the way side. So you don’t like Gabrielle Giffords or Nancy Pelosi, or even Barack Obama. Great. Maybe you can’t stand Jesse Kelly, John McCain, and Sarah Palin. Good for you. But where is the respect? Some of these people were elected by a majority of the voters, some are veterans of the military, all are humans. Do we have so little self-respect that we now have to belittle those who don’t think like us? I’m not saying don’t support your candidate, I’m not encouraging people to sit on their hands. What I am saying is remember what you learned as a child. Treat others like you want to be treated.
The second most common remark after the debate was really a question: “Who won?” I really don’t know if you can “win” a debate, but I do know who lost. We all did when we lost the ability to respect that not everyone thinks like we do.