The Common Good

This Election Season, Let's Focus on Truth and Civility


Let's try it. For the next six weeks before the election, let's focus on truth and civility.

Why? Because it's getting worse. With the campaign season in full swing, the level of our public discourse has hit new lows. From politicians to commentators, I keep hearing the same thing, "We've never seen it get this bad." And some of them are clearly helping to make things worse. The "birther" movement is alive and well, with its evangelists trying to convince the American public that Obama has stolen his Social Security number. Others are trying to convince voters nationally that the biggest issue on the ballot this year is that Delaware Senate hopeful Christine O'Donnell told Bill Maher that she "dabbled in witchcraft" before she became a Christian in college. Democrats are all described as "radicals" and "socialists," while all Republicans are described as "crazy" and "wingnuts."

Truth and civility have often been casualties of elections; but this election and its aftermath promise to be the worst in a very long time. We saw things get pretty ugly in the last presidential election. After his acceptance speech, I defended Barack Obama against real vitriol by holding up examples of Christians who disagreed with him but did so respectfully. I defended Sarah Palin from what I saw as unfair and unnecessary obsession with her wardrobe and rumors about her family. But as the midterm elections get closer, things seem to be getting worse.

How did we get to this place? Last year, I interviewed Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor and author of the book Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do? He said, "I think the reason for the breakdown of civil discourse is not that we have too much moral argument in politics, but that we have too little. What we really have are ideological food fights. Assertions hurled back and forth on cable news

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