Civility Begins in the Heart


The president gave a talk at a prayer breakfast today, and had some words about civility & loving your political enemy:

But there is a sense that something is different now; that something is broken; that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should.  At times, it seems like we're unable to listen to one another; to have at once a serious and civil debate.  And this erosion of civility in the public square sows division and distrust among our citizens.  It poisons the well of public opinion.  It leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other.  It makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong when, in reality, neither side has a monopoly on truth.  And then we lose sight of the children without food and the men without shelter and the families without health care.

Empowered by faith, consistently, prayerfully, we need to find our way back to civility.  That begins with stepping out of our comfort zones in an effort to bridge divisions.  We see that in many conservative pastors who are helping lead the way to fix our broken immigration system.  It's not what would be expected from them, and yet they recognize, in those immigrant families, the face of God.  We see that in the evangelical leaders who are rallying their congregations to protect our planet.  We see it in the increasing recognition among progressives that government can't solve all of our problems, and that talking about values like responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage are integral to any anti-poverty agenda.  Stretching out of our dogmas, our prescribed roles along the political spectrum, that can help us regain a sense of civility. […]

Challenging each other's ideas can renew our democracy.  But when we challenge each other's motives, it becomes harder to see what we hold in common.

A few uncivil observations:

1) Why wouldn't a conservative pastor be "expected" to want to improve the country's awful immigration system? Granted, my knowledge of organized religion is pretty minimal, but aren't religious leaders all about the congregation? Don't congregations include people who are separated by bad law from their families, and thus likely to share their pain with their pastors?

2) While recognizing that the Evangelical shift toward global warming policy is a real and newsworthy event, I don't know why a general sense of environmental stewardship wouldn't be "expected" from them, either. God likes grass and clean water and lil' animal friends, right? The Evangelicals I know aren't a bunch of common Fred Smiths.

3) Is the "recognition among progressives that government can't solve all of our problems" really "increasing", and is there anything really new about lefty lectures on fatherhood and marriage? The former is a bit of a straw man to begin with (I'm not sure I've ever met a progressive who thought government could solve all problems); and if you consider the question over a matter of decades, then yes, I'd reckon the trend lines are going in that direction. But recently? Seems to me that government intervention is considerably more popular on the left than it was during Bill Clinton's era, a notion captured well by the two very different approaches to economic policy.

I like the president's call for better understanding between people who have different ideas, and I look forward to him embracing it more fully.

Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote last week about the president's simultaneous calls for more bipartisanship and more GOP-bashing.