Olympia's Blog

A Time to Take Stock

June 22, 2017

Last week, we witnessed the horrific assault that unfolded on, of all places, a baseball field in Alexandria, Virginia, where a group of U.S. House members were practicing for the annual bipartisan congressional baseball game between Republicans and Democrats.

Today, we continue to pray for those recovering from injuries from this terrible, senseless attack and we celebrate those extraordinarily brave Capitol Police officers who risked all to save many.  We also struggle to come to grips with the meaning of this event and lessons it should impart to us all.  First and foremost, I believe it is essential at this moment that we unify behind the foundational precept that, in this nation, we express and reconcile our differences through civil discourse and our democratic process.

In the aftermath of the ballfield shooting, we have heard many encouraging statements from elected officials and pundits that it is long past time to ratchet down the rhetoric.  These are well-intentioned exclamations which we should support and welcome.  We also know that the passage of time often steadily erases even the best of intentions.  It is therefore incumbent upon us all to continually remind our legislators and leaders of their words and urge that they be reflected in their deeds.

I have said in speeches I have given around the country that, unequivocally and absolutely, our use of words can be powerful and critically important in setting the tone for our national discourse and behavioral norms.  I can’t tell you how many people who have approached me from all over America have expressed how fed up and angry they are about the harsh rhetoric and the partisan bickering that is fueling legislative deadlock in Washington.

Words are a critical component of civility, yet they alone are not enough.  Every day in the United States Senate, we would address each other as “my good friend,” or “my esteemed colleague.”  That is a worthy practice.  And yet, for all of these apparent niceties, the last three congresses have been the three least productive in our history.

What is missing is the second key component to civility in politics: is a willingness to listen to and work with those with whom we disagree, and to respect differing views.  To acknowledge that no single person or party has a monopoly on good ideas.  To accept that you won’t typically get 100 percent of what you seek, and therefore attempt to work through the differences.  Because as I have said in the past, civility above all is the one, essential mechanism for distilling the vast diversity of ideologies and opinions in modern America, so that we might arrive at solutions to the challenges we face.

In a country as large and divergent as ours, government “by the people and for the people” necessarily means that we must make room for contrary opinions and compromise.  There is simply no other way.

It also demands we recognize there are true patriots on both sides of the political aisle who have ideas that run counter to our own, but nonetheless sincerely have the best interests of the nation at heart.

A good start is the Commitment to Civility pledge that was circulated last January among the U.S. House of Representatives freshman class by the Republican and Democratic class presidents.

In part, the document states:

“We believe that a leader can be cooperative and conciliatory without compromising his or her core principles, and we will remember that our political rivals in Congress are not our enemies – but rather, our colleagues and fellow Americans.  We also believe that maintaining a spirit of mutual understanding and cooperation will help make government work more efficiently and effectively, help build consensus and restore the public trust and, ultimately, serve as a positive influence on society at large.”

On Wednesday of this week, in an event co-hosted by the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) where I am a senior fellow, more than 30 members of the freshman class – including the class presidents – gathered near the House chamber to recommit themselves to this pledge.  They also urged all of their House colleagues to join with them. 

At BPC, we recognize that action must now follow words, and consequently we have launched a campaign called “Walk the Talk,” which will include a series of specific activities to enable and reward bipartisan collaboration.  I urge you to learn more about it here  www.bipartisanpolicy.org/summer-of-civility.

Moreover, you can use this link to determine if your representative has signed the Commitment to Civility pledge – and if not, I implore you to ask that they do.

As part of our effort, BPC is working to make this summer the “Summer of Civility” (#summerofcivility).  As the Fourth of July approaches, I encourage you to make your own personal commitment to promoting civility and supporting elected officials to do likewise.  There could be no better way to honor the victims of last week’s attack, and secure a better future for our nation.

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Olympia's Blog

A Time to Take Stock

June 22, 2017

I have said in speeches I have given around the country that, unequivocally and absolutely, our use of words can be powerful and critically important in setting the tone for our national discourse and behavioral norms.

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