Grow Up

Lack of Civility is Destroying Washington D.C.

From ‘un-American’ slander to shouting like a teenager at the leader of the free world, politicians on both parties are misrepresenting our country—and themselves.

04.11.14 9:45 AM ET

Years ago, Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote a story about Ronald Reagan entitled When Character Was King.  In describing the 40th President of the United States, Noonan wrote: “…The secret of his success was no secret at all. It was his character—his courage, his kindness, his persistence, his honesty…that was the most important element of his success.”  Looking at the political sewer that is Washington, D.C. today, the lack of character, courage, kindness and honesty by some of the men and women elected to represent us all is galling for its lack of maturity and sophistication. 

Participants on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue are responsible for creating a climate in which trust in government has reached its lowest level in generations according to a recent Pew Poll The fact that just 19 percent of the American people have faith in government should serve as a wake-up call to our political leaders (such as they are), but I suspect the likely tsunami coming in the midterm elections will remove the fog from the eyes of several elected officials who became enamored with their own power in Washington D.C. and will find themselves voted out of office as a result.

A central mudslinger in the political swamp that is Washington today is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).  Hiding behind the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits Members from prosecution for the content of their speeches in Congress, Reid had the temerity to call Charles and David Koch “Un-American” for exercising their First Amendment rights to participate in the political process.  

Perhaps the Majority Leader is unaware of the McCarthy witch-hunts of decades prior, but singling out individual citizens for such treatment is beyond despicable.  The Koch brothers have been forced to hire private security to protect themselves against death threats. Heated debate has long been a hallmark of American politics; targeting citizens for harsh, even violent treatment for partisan advantage illustrates how out of touch Reid and his partisans who condone such activities are from the mainstream of American civility.

Not to be outdone, President Obama also used the term “Un-American” to describe lawful efforts by the citizens of Texas to require the display of identification prior to casting a vote in the Lone Star State.   Voting in the United States is a privilege, not a guaranteed right under our Constitution. Put another way, the right to vote is inherent in the Constitution, but it is not explicitly stated as such.

For the president to equate the effort to require voter identification prior to cast a ballot in Texas as Un-American when the Supreme Court overwhelmingly affirmed the legality of doing so in 2008 is appalling.  A 6-3 decision by the High Court is hardly a narrow decision but for Obama and Reid, the ends justify the means in an effort to mobilize Democrats to vote in the midterm elections in which control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance.  Statesmanship requires working with others to adopt your point of view; demonizing the actions of your opponents proves the well of ideas and persuasion has come up dry.

To be certain, Republicans are not immune from contributing to the breakdown of civility in Washington, D.C. Representative Joe Wilson’s (R-SC) shout of “You Lie” during President Obama’s address before Congress in 2009 is nothing short of adolescent. Agree or disagree with the president, when the leader of the executive branch appears before the legislative branch and the American people, insulting him by interrupting his speech is conduct unbecoming of a Member of Congress.

Also, the very presence of former South Carolina Governor and current Representative Mark Sanford is unbecoming for the manner in which he disgraced his office, his family and his constituents for supposedly taking a walk along the Appalachian Trail years ago.  Ditto for Louisiana kissing Congressman Vance McAllister (R-LA).  Late this week, the Louisiana Party called on the Congressman to resign for his behavior, which brought embarrassment to the state, the Republican Party and the Congress. 

But I reserve the distinction for gutter dwelling and otherwise abhorrent behavior to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Speaking before Al Sharpton’s National Action Network Conference in New York City this week, Holder took the opportunity to bemoan his treatment at a hearing in the Republican controlled House in which he pulled out the race card once again to gain partisan advantage:

Forget about me [specifically]. Look at the way the attorney general of the United States was treated yesterday by a House committee,” Holder told the crowd. “What attorney general has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? What president has ever had to deal with that kind of treatment? 

The message being sent to the group was crystal clear: Republicans are racist and any opposition to the actions of the president and Holder must be grounded in racism. I would invite the Attorney General to watch Senate Judiciary hearings chaired by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in which then AG Alberto Gonzalez was treated to more abusive derision.

Win at all costs. The ends justify the means. Character, courage and honesty—traits that are in short supply by those who will stop at nothing to preserve their own power and prestige at the expense of the American people they were elected to ably represent.