Civility: Here Comes Health Care

Well, the road to the Super Bowl goes, as usual, through Pittsburgh. Gee. Some things almost never change.

And we’ll see this week when members of Congress get back in the game whether anything has changed. In the wake of the massacre — and for Gabrielle Giffords, now miracle — in Tucson, and Obama’s perfectly toned and heartfelt remarks at the memorial service, can we expect a more civil, thoughtful and transparent debate on important issues both Inside the Beltway and out?

Here’s from the NYT article:

As the House prepares to resume regular legislative business on Tuesday, the shooting in Arizona that killed six in a failed assassination attempt on Representative Gabrielle Giffords has shifted the political dynamic in Washington and across the nation, with lawmakers embracing a new civility.

No one is suggesting that the fierce policy disagreements will disappear or that old animosities will not remain just beneath the new, courteous veneer. But lawmakers said they expected a leveling of the discourse on even the most divisive issues, like cutting spending, whether to raise the federal debt limit and the Republican measure to repeal the Democrats’ health care overhaul, which the House is set to vote on this week.

“I think the tenor on anything that happens in the House is going to be a little different,” Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the No. 3 House Republican, told reporters at a Republican retreat that ended on Saturday in Baltimore.

Representative Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, said there was no retreat from a policy standpoint. “I think you’ll see a more civil debate than you would have had otherwise,” Mr. Flake said on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “I’m not sure the substance of the debate will change that much.”

We’ll see. And this week will provide a good test to see if any lessons were actually learned from our latest national teachable moment. Let’s hope so. There really are some big, important fish to fry: health care, government spending, education and unemployment among them.

David Brooks, in his NYT Op-Ed, “Tree of Failure” isn’t all that optimistic that a new wave of civility will lift the Congress or the nation:

President Obama gave a wonderful speech in Tucson on Wednesday night. He didn’t try to explain the rampage that occurred there. Instead, he used the occasion as a national Sabbath — as a chance to step out of the torrent of events and reflect. He did it with an uplifting spirit. He not only expressed the country’s sense of loss but also celebrated the lives of the victims and the possibility for renewal.

Of course, even a great speech won’t usher in a period of civility. Speeches about civility will be taken to heart most by those people whose good character renders them unnecessary. Meanwhile, those who are inclined to intellectual thuggery and partisan one-sidedness will temporarily resolve to do better but then slip back to old habits the next time their pride feels threatened.

Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.

We’ll see. But I hope John McCain has it right in his opinion piece in WaPo, “After the shootings, Obama reminds the nation of the golden rule.” Here’s an excerpt:

We Americans have different opinions on how best to serve that noble purpose. We need not pretend otherwise or be timid in our advocacy of the means we believe will achieve it. But we should be mindful as we argue about our differences that so much more unites than divides us. We should also note that our differences, when compared with those in many, if not most, other countries, are smaller than we sometimes imagine them to be.

I disagree with many of the president’s policies, but I believe he is a patriot sincerely intent on using his time in office to advance our country’s cause. I reject accusations that his policies and beliefs make him unworthy to lead America or opposed to its founding ideals. And I reject accusations that Americans who vigorously oppose his policies are less intelligent, compassionate or just than those who support them.

Our political discourse should be more civil than it currently is, and we all, myself included, bear some responsibility for it not being so. It probably asks too much of human nature to expect any of us to be restrained at all times by persistent modesty and empathy from committing rhetorical excesses that exaggerate our differences and ignore our similarities. But I do not think it is beyond our ability and virtue to refrain from substituting character assassination for spirited and respectful debate.

Spirited and respectful debate.

We’ll see.


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