9/6/12 | 600 views
Invitation to Civil Discourse
The American people have made it clear again and again this election season that they really don’t want the candidates to engage in personal attacks and nasty rhetoric. They don’t want accusatory TV ads, they don’t want finger-pointing campaign posters and they don’t want snide remarks about one’s opponent to substitute for clearly stated positions.
What people do want is for the candidates—especially the presidential and vice presidential candidates—to focus on the critical issues facing the country today.
A recent Knights of Columbus-Marist Poll is a case in point. It found that 78 percent of Americans are “frustrated with the tone in politics today,” with more than two-thirds saying candidates spend more time attacking their opponents than addressing key issues.
The Knights followed up that survey with a “Civility in America” petition calling on candidates, along with commentators and the media, to focus on the issues rather than on individual personalities. By Aug. 27, the petition had gathered more than 20,000 online signatures.
Cardinal Dolan, who has been working hard these days to promote civil discourse during this most critical of campaigns, has taken the petition a step further, inviting the Republican and Democratic candidates for president and vice president to sign it.
The candidates would do well to accept.
In letters to President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and their Republican challengers Governor Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan, the cardinal even offered a sweetener. He told the candidates that if they sign the petition he’ll convey to the Knights’ 1.8 million members “that you have chosen to support this valuable effort.”
Noting that the petition grew from a poll finding that negative campaigning harms the political process, the cardinal wrote, “That this perception exists cannot be healthy for our country or our democratic political process.”
With his promotion of the Civility in America petition and other actions in recent weeks, Cardinal Dolan, who also serves as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is offering a reasonable and fair-minded alternative to the acrimony that has poisoned our political culture.
By accepting invitations to offer the closing prayer at the Republican National Convention last week in Tampa, Fla., and at the Democratic National Convention this week in Charlotte, N.C., for instance, the cardinal is demonstrating a commitment to a non-partisan approach to politics that highlights the responsibilities of office-holders and seeks divine guidance for those who govern.
In the same way, his decision to graciously host both presidential candidates at the upcoming Al Smith Dinner—despite his very public dispute with the Obama administration for requiring Catholic agencies to provide coverage for contraceptives in employee health plans—affirms the importance he places on dialogue and civility in the public square. It was a decision he stuck with even in the face of a barrage of angry criticism, most of it aimed at the invitation to Obama.
Cardinal Dolan said the criticism weighed heavily on him, as it would on any pastor, but said he was nevertheless “encouraged by the example of Jesus, who was blistered by his critics for dining with those some considered sinners; and by the recognition that, if I only sat down with people who agreed with me, and I with them, or with those who were saints, I’d be taking all my meals alone.”
By keeping open the lines of communication with all of those seeking high office in this country, the cardinal is not likely to want for dinner companions and, we pray, will encourage by his example a retreat from the divisiveness that drags us down.
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