LINCOLN NEEDS TO RETURN CIVILITY TO LOCAL POLITICS
An Editorial Opinion as published in the January 19, 2003 Lincoln "Journal Star"
For the past 16 years, I have served the Lincoln community as an elected official. For the past 40 years, I have served the Lincoln community as a volunteer in various organizations. Recently, I see a change in the way this city conducts its public business. I don't like what I see.
One of the many qualities that has made Lincoln special has been its level of civility. The "Lincoln way" of meeting our challenges and resolving our differences has been to reach out to one another, debate the merits of an issue, seek common ground, put our personal disagreements behind us and move ahead for the greater good. We prided ourselves that this set us apart.
Not any more. Increasingly, public political discourse in Lincoln is marked by personal attacks, idle speculation, snide innuendoes, pointless bickering and self-important, self-serving posturing. Worse, the deterioration is at all levels. I hear it in personal conversation, and I hear it every Monday at City Council meetings in testimony and from my colleagues, who at times do not show respect for one another or the public.
What has happened? Has society changed? Why is it considered an improvement to be rude to our leadership in our government, in our schools, in our community groups? Why are the same negative folks at every public meeting, chipping away at reputations and slyly questioning the motives of anyone who dares show the initiative to step forward in a leadership role? Is this the way Lincoln wants to address the issues, or is there a better way?
I am too experienced to be naive. People will disagree, sometimes very strongly. That's OK, even healthy. The crisis is the failure to conduct ourselves as decent individuals in a community with integrity. The "gotcha" game has to end. It is time to end the name-calling and personal attacks and restore the Lincoln way of debating the tough issues without insulting or degrading people with other points of view. It is a matter of basic respect for each other. It is a matter of respect for our civic process. It is a matter of being polite, even though you may disagree. It is possible to express one's self without swearing and it is possible to express a point of view without personal jabs.
Lincoln must restore the rules that demand dignity and show appreciation for each person's God-given talents. I suggest we start by:
Elected officials, in particular, must take the high road because we help set the example for our children. The public expects elected officials to resolve issues, not throw nasty digs at one another. All need to behave in a respectful manner to end the trend toward discord and hostility and restore courteous discussion of the issues.
That is the Lincoln way. Citizens and voters must stand up and speak out against the bullies, gossips and malcontents who try to obscure public debate with malicious comments and innuendo.
Our children, our future leaders, are watching.