Politeness in Politics
Wednesday, September 5, 2018
This issue has been on my mind for a long time and since Labor Day weekend typically signals the beginning of campaign season. I wanted to share a CEWAER (now California Women Lead ) newsletter article that is still, if not more, relevant today than it was in 1996. It was written by Miss Manners (AKA Judith Martin) and you can read it here.
In 1996, former State Senator Dede Alpert was president of the board and I wanted to share a few things she wrote in her message to the membership that year, which still resonates in our political climate today:
"For more than a year, members of CEWAER's Board of Directors have been discussing how politics has become so much more mean-spirited -- that some candidates and campaign consultants think nothing of mailing off "hit pieces" filled with half-truths, that substitute discussions of the issues with personal attacks.
I think that these new, mean-spirited campaigns are having a chilling effect. People with good intentions and records of public service are saying "no" to serving in public office, much less taking on the rigors of a campaign.
In the end, we all lose -- we lose the skills and leadership of many individuals who do not want to subject their families and co-workers to negative campaigns nor want to serve with acrimonious colleagues.
That is why CEWEAR is stepping forward and calling for civil political debate.
People with policy disagreements or competing political interests must begin to conduct themselves in a manner that does not unravel the social fabric of our communities.
So, I ask you to join us, to stand up for civil political discourse... Encourage people in your community to talk about 'the ground rules for civic political debate.' Introduce [or encourage your elected bodies to introduce] a Politeness in Politics resolution [that CEWAER authored in 1996!) and send us a copy of any resolution that is adopted.
As leaders in our communities, we can facilitate constructive discussion about the tough issues facing our state -- or we can descend further into a political mud bath.
It's a choice.
And I hope you will join with CEWAER [now California Women Lead] in calling for a civil debate."
--- State Senator Dede Alpert (retired) CEWAER newsletter 1996
I wanted to share this because I, like many of the folks I meet around the state, are tired that civil political debate has been lost and replaced with Facebook comments or tweets that attack, on an ever more personal level. That the issue of "public service" is being lost as we see people treating others with words we would never say, if that same person was in the room. That we write words in comments or tweets on our social media outlets that attack and patronize not realizing our words end up with a much broader audience than we might have ever intended. That good people- who are serving their communities with passion, who would make excellent policy makers, are choosing NOT to run for political office because of the toll it will take on their family or their personal reputation.
Nothing has changed in TWENTY TWO years -- Miss Manners and Senator Alpert's words still resonate today.
As campaign season kicks into high gear, I hope you will join me in doing a small part to bring civility back to politics. We cannot control what others say, do or post on social media, but we can be a raindrop in the pond. It only takes one drop to create a ripple that spreads across the entire pond. Will you join me in being a raindrop? Together we can create a new standard, by our own example, and maybe, just maybe, bring Politeness Back to Politics.
Let me know what you think, if it is even possible or if we have gone too far to change the tenor of our political campaigns. I hope not. I believe in the power of public service and I want to work with you to bring civility back to the public policy debates in our state.
P.S. If you are interested in the resolution CEWAER promoted in 1996 that California Women Lead is supporting today you can read it here. And join California Women Lead to help us bring Politeness Back to Politics.