In the wake of the tragedy in Tucson this month, we’ve been hearing a lot about how the tone of our political debate needs to change. Now, just a couple weeks later, the debate over how we debate has made us perhaps even more divided than ever.
No, the tone’s not going anywhere.
Let’s face it, the tone — divisive, nasty and dishonest as it often is — works. The tone is motivating people to write checks to fill campaign war chests, the tone is driving cable news ratings and the tone is getting people elected. We, the voters, actually respond to the tone — many of us hate who they tell us to hate, and we vote according to a finely tuned set of primal cues, delivered in 30-second TV sound bites.
The tone is working — for politicians locally and nationally. But is it working for America?
Among other things, the tone tells us that we can have the greatest nation on earth without paying for it. As the tone has kept us obsessed over our differences, changes that have crippled the middle class have slipped under the radar. The tone squashes any whiff of a challenge to authority some times; other times it attacks and undermines authority. The only consistent driving force behind the tone is that it be self-serving. It’s not much help in times of crisis like these.
Still, individual voters can condemn the tone, one by one, when they vote. The only way the tone will change is if it stops getting people elected. Here are a few of the issues I look at as I attempt to referee the game and dole out unsportsmanlike-tone penalties.
We’re all in this together, aren’t we? I try to gauge where a particular candidate’s loyalty lies. Is it what’s best for the nation, or does his or her political party come first?
(Lack of) internal consistency. When politicians change their opinions on a dime, depending on who they are attacking or defending, you should wonder if there are any actual convictions in there.
Going dark-side. The harsher, more divisive and more personal campaign rhetoric a candidate chooses to employ, the less I tend to trust them.
America has always relied on a spirited debate to inform wise decisions for the common good. But when that spirited debate mutates into a monster, it only serves its masters.
The fact is, the tone can change — but only if we change.