There’s hope for civil democracy after all

Johnson City Press • Oct 11, 2018 at 8:15 AM

Bitter rancor dominating national politics grew into all-out verbal war over the last two weeks, as Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the nation’s highest court cemented the divisions in Washington and more importantly the public.

Our federal politicians and political action committees are both mirroring and feeding those divisions at breakneck speed with neither side seemingly interested in civil discourse. No one can claim a higher road, including television networks that pump people into a frenzy and seemingly air any political ad regardless of veracity. Revenge politics are the norm of the day.

We cannot help but wonder when the discord will reach a precipice, boiling over into more dangerous conflict or finally giving the public the kick in the teeth it needs to demand civility.

Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe has reminded us on more than one occasion of last year’s sniper attack as the GOP caucus practiced for the annual Congressional Baseball Game for Charity, which left House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana seriously wounded. We also remind you of the 2011 shooting of Roe’s Democratic colleague, Gabrielle Giffords, and the violence at the “Unite the Right” white nationalism rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, which resulted in the death of counter-protester Heather Heyer.

It would a tragedy to see this nation devolve into the clashes that marred the cultural changes in the 1960s.

That’s why it was so refreshing to see Tennessee’s two gubernatorial candidates engage in vigorous but respectful dialogue Tuesday night at the debate this newspaper sponsored with the Kingsport Times News, Eastman and Ballad Health.

Democratic nominee Karl Dean and his Republican opponent Bill Lee treated one another with the dignity the office of governor deserves and offered ideas toward solutions to Tennessee’s problems rather than mere partisan smack talk. They presented a lot of common ground, and where they differed, they did so without ugly hyperbole, character assassination or accusations. It was clear that each man brought his mind, not his emotions, to the stage.

If only the Dean-Lee model could play out on the national stage. Tennessee isn’t so lucky with our other major race this year, the increasingly acrimonious contest between former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen and Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn for the U.S. Senate. That race is fueled, of course, by its implications in the balance of power in Washington.

But imagine what progress this country might make if Tuesday’s gubernatorial debate were the norm rather than the exception. We think it is time for you to demand it.

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