Politics and Civility for 2011
While the midterm elections are over and this gives me a sweet relief that I do not think I could even come close to accurately conveying without being fluent in click language, I suffer under no illusion: this is only a temporary reprieve. I started out this season dwistfully handicapping the mayor’s race here in Lexington. I had flown up to the Inauguration for Kentucky’s Bluegrass Ball. I was full of idealism, hope and, in retrospect, a rather naive enthusiasm.
In the ensuing months, I threw fundraisers for the candidates I supported, phone-banked at their campaign headquarters, and knocked on doors. At the local watch parties, I have to admit that I had goosebumps when ‘my people’ took the stage to accept their positions on the local and national stage.
The next day, I woke up early (as I always do), and tried to put things in perspective. Although I’ve held a number of nationally and internationally elected positions in the medical community for years, they have all ben in a relatively small niche. Although the politics of medicine have certainly taken its place on the international stage, it would be disingenuous of me to state that there is any true equivalency to governing in the traditional sense.
In any case, I’ve always been interested in the ways that things of great magnitude get accomplished. Through the process, I was appointed to the Kentucky Arts Council by Governor Beshear, got appointed to one of the nation’s most powerful legislative committees for the arts, and, again, felt comfortable in the niche.
I even helped shepherd a statewide legislative arts bill through the last legislative assembly, only to have it removed by the Senate’s Appropriations Committee, (and for the record, it was a truly elegant bill that would provide arts programming for children and young adults with disabilities across the state).
I say these things to qualify the remarks that follow—there is always room in politics for good people to do good work.
Having said that, my experience with the political process has also left me conflicted. It seems that politics, on the whole, has turned mean. Maybe it always WAS mean and I just wasn’t paying attention. It would appear that respectful opposition has somehow taken a shotgun wound to the chest. Somewhere along the line, the political process has started dividing us instead of uniting us. If I didn’t know any better (and sometimes I think I still don’t), I’d say that America is playing the prelude to some sort of ideological civil war. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’m altogether immune.
I don’t think I’m alone. The real question is this: how can the political process be changed to keep people engaged? Just about everyone I know is talking politics these days. Unfortunately, one of the common refrains is a variation on the same theme—everything has gotten dirty; with the attack ads; the liberties taken with the truth; and general maliciousness—I want a government I can be proud of. Is there any room for real statesmen anymore?
Make no mistake—I’ll never skip a vote; I’ll never be an uninformed voter; and I’ll always step up to support the candidates who I believe represent the best of my community, my state, and my nation. Just the same, I’ll refute the notion that no candidate is completely right, just as no candidate is completely wrong. These are the steps I intend to take.
*I will accept the outcomes of any and all elections and resist the urge to throw myself off the roof when they don’t turn out the way I think they should
*I will respect any political opposition as long as they respect any political opposition
*I will refrain from equating someone’s political beliefs with their personal worth
*I will remember that I live in a democracy and, as such, must adhere to its basic tenets
*I will quit taking political outcomes personally
*I will listen LESS to political pundits and read MORE voting records
*I will stop donating my time and money to political campaigns that are based upon attack ads instead of the issues.
*I will keep my eye out for statesmen.
*I will never run for political office.
*I will read more international political news coverage
*I will speak less about politics and think more about civility
These things, I believe.
Lexington Mayor-Elect Jim Gray’s transition team recently invited citizen input for “fresh ideas to improve our city and make our government more efficient.”
The announcement read, “Transition Team Chair, UK Law Professor, Chris Frost will lead the effort to engage the community through a process that is inclusive, transparent and collaborative; one intended to identify ways we can make our government more efficient; and that will help us identify and seize opportunities.”
Go to http://www.lexingtonky.gov to submit a form with your suggestions and ideas.
Former mayor Teresa Isaac, who is part of the transition team, posted a sampling of collected suggestions via twitter, including, “pay more attention to Lexington outside New Circle,” “support the arts,” and “provide shelter to the homeless.”