By John E. Carey
December 31, 2006
Listen to any hard core political activist or blogger in the United States and you’ll likely hear a screed against the “other side;” that defined usually as the amorphous blob of Americans that oppose his or her point of view.
The problem with this is that “the other side” used to mean the enemy we faced in a war: not what the British call “the loyal opposition.”
When Republican stalwarts heard Democrat Representative Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania advocate a redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq to some “quick reaction base” such as Okinawa, they howled with derision. And when rumors spread that the president was considering a “surge” of U.S. forces to quell the violence in Baghdad in order to give Iraqi forces more time before they shoulder the brunt of their own security, Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware said he opposed any additional U.S. troops in Iraq: before he was even handed a plan and a strategy to consider.
The discourse of public debate became so acrimonious within the United States in 2006 that we run the risk of defeating ourselves in Iraq: just as we did four decades ago in Vietnam.
You’ll find other veterans that agree with this assessment.
In the December 31, 2006, Washington Times commentary section, former Marine James G. Zumwalt points to an al Qaeda document found by U.S. troops earlier this year. Describing al Qaeda’s situation in Iraq as “bleak,” the document cites Al Qaeda’s own military losses and its inability to win over the “hearts and minds” of the Iraqi people.
In fact, an impartial assessment of the situation in the Middle East will find that Arabs are fighting and killing other Arabs and Muslims are killing other Muslims at a sadly alarming rate. In Iraq, Sunni’s kill Shi’ites while the Kurds watch, mostly from the north.
But the Kurds are not safe either. Neither the Sunnis nor the Shia want to share any of Iraq’s oil wealth with the Kurds and the Turks are deathly afraid that the “unclean” Kurds will flood across the Turkish border and upset their own democracy.
On the Mediterranean side of the Middle East, two groups seem engaged in a death struggle and the Israelis are not among them. Fatah and Hamas loyalists cannot resolve their own hatreds long enough to mount a united effort against the Israelis: the people both Fatah and Hamas say are the real illegitimate people in the region.
In Lebanon, the Iran backed Hezbollah became so powerful during 2006 that it cooked up a war with a sovereign nation: Israel; even though the host Lebanese country wanted no part of the destruction Israel ultimately rained down on Beirut and elsewhere.
The word for all this, heard more and more, is “fractious.” Defined as “Tending to cause trouble; unruly. Irritable; snappish; cranky;” my own mind translates “fractious” into an imagined more appropriate root verb: to fracture.
What the people of the United States might start to consider is this: yes we have our disagreements here in the U.S. and there is by no means a consensus on foreign policy and the war on terror. Yet neither the Republican nor the Democrat party can claim a mandate or a landslide in any recent national referendum. That means we can still be winners if each side can compromise.
Because it seems to me that we are a lot more in unison here in the United States than those that want to do us harm seem to be in the Arab-Muslim world. We here in the U.S. still vent our anger with the arson of devilishly developed syntax. The Muslims who disagree with one another quickly, it seems, choose assassination, suicide bombings and other forms of terror to make their points: even against the people of their brother tribes.
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Restore Civility in Discourse, Government
By John E. Carey
December 31, 2006
There seems a lack of civility, good manners, decorum and protocol in Washington these days.One side frequently calls the other side names; instead of making organized, logical arguments.
We entered the world of the “blogosphere” on July 4, 2006. In this internet land of people discussing world events, the language often is particularly harsh, polarizing and nasty.
Former President Bill Clinton entered (or re-entered depending upon your point of view) the fray on Sunday, September 24, 2006, during an interview with Chris Wallace on the Fox News Sunday show. Associated Press writer Karen Matthews, reporting on the exchange, called it “combative.” That’s not a word usually associated with a president during a media interview. I can’t think of that word ever applied to an ex-president during a media exchange. This may just qualify Mr. Clinton for another description: “not presidential.”
Clinton accused host Chris Wallace of a “conservative hit job.” Not presidential at all.
Did president Clinton miss a memo about letting others mix it up in public with the opposition and their media? Even my Vietnamese-born wife observed: “Good thing Clinton didn’t interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox. It might have ended up with Bill and Bill on the floor slugging each other.”
It is bad enough we have to hear the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “talking smack” as they say, at the United Nations; now we have to hear it from a former President of the United States? Makes one wonder what side is Bill Clinton on? And why does he see a need to lower himself to the level of Chavez and Ahmadinejad.
Are we missing something?An exchange between President Bush and the Today show’s Matt Lauer on the anniversary of 9/11 caused a flurry of discussion on some web sites. Lauer seemed to have an aggressive, even badgering tone with the president as the two stood in the Oval Office discussing 9/11 and other issues of the day. Lauer repeatedly gestured in an aggressive way, almost sticking his finger in the president’s chest.
On Sunday, September 10, 2001, on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean if he would now apologize to Karl Rove.
It seems, despite Dean’s accusations that Rove was the leaker in the Valery Plame escapade, that Richard Armitage was the unfortunate and inadvertent leaker.
Gov. Dean answered, “Absolutely not. I still think he should be fired.”
Armitage apologized in public. Dean could not.
Does it matter? Sure it does.Thoughtful, courteous national discourse has managed to get us through a revolution against the most powerful nation on the Earth, a War Between the States, two World Wars and other tragedies and trying times.
If we can get along, maybe we can discuss the problems and get the best answers. Maybe a more civil and etiquette-driven discussion of the issues can help us get through the War on Terror.
The Iraq Study Group headed by Former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton might give us a lesson in discourse to follow. Like their recommendations or not: they did not end up in mortal combat among themselves.
Instead, we have become a nation led by name-callers, insult-slingers and generally rude, angry and impolite representatives.
And sometimes, the media, maybe unintentionally, magnify the animosity. This is what many conservatives saw during Matt Lauer’s questioning of President Bush on September 11, 2006.My friend retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters at The New York Post wonders about “the unscrupulous nature of those in the media who always discover a dark cloud in the brightest silver lining. They are terror’s cheerleaders.”What does this teach our children? And does it do us any good?
Senator elect James Webb, a former Marine and Secretary of the Navy, met the President of the United States in November. Maybe Mr. Webb was a little too taken with himself after beating Senator Allen in the election. Whatever the reason, newspapers reported that Mr. Webb, while a guest at the White House, ”tried to avoid President Bush,” refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. The president had to seek out the illusive Mr. Webb, a guest inside the Executive Mansion.
“How’s your boy?” President Bush asked the Senator elect, referring to Webb’s son, a Marine serving in Iraq.
“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.
“That’s not what I asked you,” Bush said. “How’s your boy?”
“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.
When Webb was asked about the apparently rude response to a question from the President of the United States, he responded by saying, “So I know the drill. I’m looking forward to working with people in this administration.”
“I’ve got good friends on the Republican side,” added Webb, a former Republican.
I would say, apparently, that Senator Elect Webb does not know the drill: at least the drill taught to the leaders of Communist Vietnam, where the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Vietnam held a cordial discussion in November or at the United States Naval Academy, Webb’s alma mater.
We can assure readers that at the Naval Academy, midshipmen are instructed to conduct themselves as gentlemen.
Our American history is full of great men who teach us the importance of good conduct for the common good. Some say George Washington actually authored “The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour [sic] in Company and Conversation.”Though not the author, Washington embraced good manners so famously that the “Rules” could easily have been his own creation.
The good manners of John Adams also echo to us through history. With Thomas Paine, Adams watched a young American officer conduct himself less than diplomatically and courteously before the King of France.Adams wrote to his wife, describing the “Man of Choleric Temper.”
Adams said the man “like so many Gentlemen from his State, is abrupt and undiplomatic. Last evening, at a Royal Reception, he confronted His Most Christian Majesty Louis XVI with Words both ardent and impatient, whilst Mr. Paine wrung his Hands at the other man’s lack of Tact. Never did I think that I would see our impetuous Paine so pain’d by another’s want of Courtesy and Civility. To our amazement, however, the King took [the man’s] Enthusiasm in good Part.”
When told one of his generals, John C. Fremont, had been nominated by a group of 400 anti-Lincoln loyalists to run for president, Lincoln opened a Bible and read aloud from I Samuel:22, “And everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men.”
I think it takes more brains to give a response the way Linclon did than to attack another with questionalble language.
Modern statesmen pulled the country together, not by tearing others apart or barking at the media, but more often by thoughtful discourse and conduct.
“Both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt operated beautifully on the reporters who surrounded them,” wrote David Keirsey and Ray Choiniere in “Presidential Temperament.”“Both used the press as if it were their own publicity machine.”
This was largely achieved in a civil, diplomatic style.
A modern day solon of wisdom and truth might be former Indiana Congressman and Democrat Lee Hamilton. Hamilton volunteered some stern remarks about the importance of truth. “Facts are not Republican and they’re not Democrat,” he said. “They’re not ideological. Facts are facts.”
I cannot ever recall seeing Gerald Ford, our late president whom we honor this weekend, look mean, uncivil, rude or terribly angry.
Neither can I remember John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush look petulant, angry or rude. Or terribly distort the facts.
And then there is perhaps the best example from American politics of comity even amid political disagreement. President Ronald “Dutch” Reagan and Speaker of the House Thomas Phillip “Tip” O’Neill. They drank together and sang Irish ballads. And they still agreed to disagree.
Other great national leaders also reflect respect, even admiration, for the importance of good protocol and decorum.Winston Churchill described a 1941 university ceremony this way: “The blitz was running hard at that time, and the night before, the raid … had been heavy. Several hundreds had been killed and wounded. Many houses were destroyed. Buildings next to the university were still burning, and many of the university authorities who conducted the ceremony had pulled on their robes over uniforms begrimed and drenched; but all was presented with faultless ritual and appropriate decorum, and I sustained a very strong and invigorating impression of the superiority of man over the forces that can destroy him.”
Let’s hope our leaders become enlightened enough to avoid the forces that can destroy them. For our sake and the sake of our children.
I regret the times that bad conduct, anger and a disregard for etiquette got the best of me. I hope our present day political leaders see the light too.Karl Rove usually has a wonderful sense for the correct tone to set.
Howard Dean seems tone deaf. But we have hope for his salvation!To get though the war against terror and to achieve victory, a united, clear-thinking leadership just might be important.
Angry rhetoric and arson with clever words serves no good purpose.