With civil discourse scarce, McCain becomes role model
Written by Michael Lewis on September 4, 2018
Don’t you yearn for the days when you could discuss current issues with friends and neighbors without having to either guard your words or cover your ears?
This isn’t just some old-timer’s wish, because the good old days were just a few years ago.
Those were days when people were far more civil to one another even though they might not have come from the same home town or even the same nation.
Of course, folks of differing religions or native languages or races or educations or economic status or political persuasions didn’t always agree in the old days, any more than folks of the same religions or native languages or races or educations or economic status or political persuasions always agreed.
Disagreements in thoughts are common, natural and – when expressed civilly – can be both therapeutic and bring a new agreement, even if the agreement is only to continue to disagree with friends and neighbors but to keep the lines of communication open.
The trick in civilized society is to keep talking and look for common grounds on which we can stand together rather than let those areas where we may disagree drive us apart.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about deep divisions being driven into society in an era of name-calling and increased boorishness. Many of us have stopped listening to the other side of the argument – any argument.
The example that we see every day is division based on where we get information. On a national level, we know that a Fox television viewer and an MSNBC viewer select the voice they most agree with and seldom tolerate the other side, much less listen to and analyze it. We hear only the voice we already agree with.
Unfortunately, fewer and fewer media voices are neutral. As for media consumers, more and more are tuning out the other side, both from the media and in their personal lives. We say we can’t talk with “them” because they can’t tolerate “us.”
Then we look at the example of John McCain. At his memorial service Saturday, former Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, who in 2008 was a Democrat, told of Senator McCain approaching him then to join him on the Republican presidential ticket. “You’re a Democrat, I’m a Republican, we can give our country the bipartisan leadership it needs for change,” Mr. Lieberman recalled Mr. McCain explaining.
That would have been the “us” and the “them” becoming “us and us” for the US.
In a press briefing during that 2008 campaign Mr. McCain was expounding on some wrong, as he saw it, in national policy and pledged that if elected he would fix it. But the power was not a presidential prerogative, so I asked him how he would fix it. “I will use the bully pulpit” and argue them down, he replied emphatically. He believed in keeping on talking with the other side.
At Saturday’s memorial service, former President Barack Obama hit on the need for common agreement on basics so that disagreements on everything else can be healthy and productive.
“John understood that part of what makes our country great is that our membership is based not on our bloodline, not on what we look like… but on our adherence to a common creed that all of us are created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights,” Mr. Obama said.
That basic understanding permits – indeed encourages – debate and disagreement on the way to future accords. We may disagree on much in this country, but under the rubric of rules that are so vital that we should agree 100% on their core principles even while we may quibble with how we interpret them around the edges.
Those principles can be found in the Constitution of the United States. We agree on things like fair trial and freedoms of speech and press and worship to hold us together and form a platform for discussion and debate. Indeed, these principles make possible in a free society debate that could not go on in dictatorships.
We should work totally united – as if at war – to preserve our constitutional guarantees, if only so that we can civilly debate anything and everything that can improve our personal lives, our society and our nation.
There is nothing wrong with disagreement. It can be very healthy. It’s just how you handle it.
The example set by John McCain makes a pretty good model.