Looking for Leadership on Civility

In the days that followed the tragic shooting deaths in Tucson, President Obama delivered what may be remembered as one of his more powerful speeches, a direct appeal for the nation to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.” He continued, “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized… it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

“I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us.”

As we look ahead towards the impending 2012 national election season, a time when we expect heated passionate discussions, we realize that when you support one party’s approach to solving our national problems over another, it’s easy to get caught up in the rhetoric and energy.

However, this Labor Day weekend we heard a marked increase in very disturbing language coming from national leaders, including the Vice President of the United States.

Whether you consider yourself sympathetic to Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, Liberals, or even part of the ever-growing Tea Party, whose membership base varies from state to state, county to county, I pose the question whether the messages heard this weekend are ever considered appropriate.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

In Cincinnati, our elected Vice President, who is supposed to represent all Americans, told a crowd of AFL-CIO union workers, “We’ve been through a lot of fights, but this is a different kind of fight…. You are the only folks keeping the barbarians from the gates. You are the only non-governmental power. The only one that has the power and the capacity to stop the onslaught.”

It may be difficult for those of us from states where big-union isn’t a big deal to understand the exact relationships between government and unions, but should the vice-president of the United States refer to those who believe in a different approach to our problems, be using this kind of language on a national holiday in an effort to incite a group of potential voters?

It gets worse.

Teamsters President Jimmy Hoffa

International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ president Jimmy Hoffa appeared at Detroit’s Labor Day Event at the GM Plant Parking Lot in a program that included President Obama. Hoffa constantly referred to a “war on workers” by the Tea Party.

“And you know there is only one way to beat and win that war. The one thing about working people is we like a good fight. … they’ve got a war with us and there is only going to be one winner. … President Obama, this is your army. We are ready to march… When he sees what we are doing here, he will be inspired, but he needs help. And you know what? Everybody here has got a vote. If we go back, we keep the eye on the prize, let’s take these sons-of-b***ches out and give America back to America where we belong.”

The official White House response, delivered this morning by White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, is that President Obama will not “serve as the speech police for the Democratic Party.” So we look toward the DNC Chair, US Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. She has no official response, refusing to address Mr. Hoffa’s call for violence. Instead, she merely reiterates the DNC prepared talking points about, “working together and focus on creating jobs.”

U.S. Representative Maxine Waters

Let’s also not forget that just two weeks ago, Rep. Maxine Waters spoke to a community summit of her Los Angeles constituents, in which she boldly stated “I’m not afraid of anybody, this is a tough game. You can’t be intimidated. You can’t be frightened. And as far as I’m concerned, the ‘tea party’ can go straight to Hell.

It’s unfortunate how quickly people forget the President’s sage words offered just nine months ago. We turn to him for leadership, a strong response to his own party, reminding his supporters about the need for true civility. This is his opportunity to lead the nation, both in actions and words, towards real discussion and compromise, not name-calling, rhetoric, accusations, or even silent acquiescence.

Tonight the GOP primary candidates will debate in order to distinguish themselves to their base of voters. Each desires the opportunity to represent the party in the national election for President. Meanwhile, the President prepares his own call for legislation, laying the foundation for his own re-election campaign.

We know that both sides will differ in how they approach our national problems, but I wonder whether we as a nation can survive the verbal barrage.