Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Record column: Raise quality of the debate but lower the voices

Guest column: Civility: Raise quality of the debate but lower the voices
Posted: November 5, 2011 - 11:40pm
St. Augustine Record
I confess: Twelve years ago, I left an angry telephone message, calling a young Oak Ridge, Tennessee Department of Energy lawyer a “Nazi” after DOE’s abuse of four of my whistleblower clients (Oak Ridge security clearance personnel). I learned my lesson: when our voices are raised and we are emotional, it is difficult to solve problems. We can disagree without being disagreeable.
Both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street groups are angry at injustice. I agree with Occupy Wall Street — dangerously regressive policies destroy the middle class, create poverty and make the wealthy wealthier. I also agree with our local Tea Party’s support for the independence of Anastasia Mosquito Control District (defending it against an ill-advised attempt by the St. Johns County Commission last year to take it over). For three decades, I have been outspoken about ending government waste, as a journalist, citizen and advocate.
We all believe that large organizations are running the country, and ruining lives. As Robert Kennedy said, “It is not enough to allow dissent, we must demand it, for there is much to dissent from.”
Locally, there are two separate and distinct groups, each calling themselves the “Tea Party,” each attending County meetings, often misbehaving.
I’ve met with local Tea Party members to understand their views.
However, with all due respect, some local Tea Party members and supporters have repeatedly shown disrespect for differing points of view. This process started with House Speaker John Boehner, who stated in 1995 that “Most employers would describe OSHA as the Gestapo of the federal government.”
Some local Tea Party leaders have not learned how to control their anger. Their misbehavior is routine at County government meetings, taken for granted by public officials and news media. Honest public servants and citizens are accused of “treason” and called “Fascists,” “Communists,” “Fabian socialists,” “Marxists” (and more) by misguided, loud, angry people. Any good points are drowned out by demeaning personal attacks.
Tea Party members misbehaved once again on Monday, November 1, 2011 in connection with the proposed St. Augustine National Historical Park and National Seashore. Angry bullying tactics persuaded County Commissioners to vote against supporting a proposal to create pollution-free green jobs, raise property values, help small business, preserving our history and nature here in our Nation’s Oldest City. Commissioners asked no questions.
Ideology-intoxicated Tea Partiers actually compared Park supporters to Adolf Hitler. They told Commissioners that our Park/Seashore proposal would lead to “one world government,” and “make us slaves in our own homes.” There was loud booing and simulated gunfire noises directed to proponents of our Park and Seashore. County Commissioners and staff are now apparently accustomed to it.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.” Falsehoods and slander are not policy arguments. The plural of “anecdote” is not “data.” A constant, humorless, drumbeat of fear-mongering, slander, scorn and ridicule is not “dialogue.” It is beneath the dignity of a free people. Enough meanness!
Opponents of the Park and Seashore had one excellent idea — they suggest a referendum. I agree. Let’s vote.
Meanwhile, let us learn from Nov. 1. We all love our country. Rights must be respected.
Let’s strive to raise the quality of debate. Resolve to be kinder. Let’s lower our voices. When we learn from and listen to one another, we can solve problems. It is up to each one of us to make democracy work better, from the Courthouse to Tallahassee to Washington, D.C. Say “no” to angry, uncivil behavior. As William Shakespeare would ask, “What do you reckon?”


Ed Slavin (B.S.F.S., Foreign Service, Georgetown University, J.D., Memphis State University, now University of Memphis) has lived in St. Augustine for more than 12 years, moving here on Nov. 5, 1999. He first proposed a St. Augustine National Historical Park and Seashore on Nov. 13, 2006.

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