The Morning After: Searching for Civility in Politics

Published Wed, Nov 7 2012 9:49 AM


After Governor Romney conceded, President Obama gave a speech encouraging Americans to be civil to each other.  Unfortunately, civility was in short supply in the hours preceding that speech.  In a tragic turn of events, disputes on election day progressed into violence.

  • In Detroit, an Obama campaigner punched in a voter in the face.
  • Also in Detroit, a Republican poll watcher in Detroit was threatened with a gun.
  • 75 Republican election officials in dozens of wards throughout Philadelphia were physically assaulted by Democrat election judges to remove them from polling places.  (So much for the ‘city of brotherly love.’)


In those cases, the disputes could not be resolved peaceably between the two parties.  Other avenues had to be pursued, and law enforcement was needed to restore civility. 

The aggressive campaigner was arrested. 

The Republican poll watcher called 911. 

Lawyers went to court to get an order to reinstate election officials with police security to protect them.

Hopefully Americans actually listened to what Obama said later that night.  President Obama thanked those “held an Obama sign or a Romney sign.”  He said he would speak with Romney about how to work together.  In calling for cooperation across the aisle, he did recognize the divisive state of the country by saying:

Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy and messy and complicated. We have our own opinions. Each of us has deeply held beliefs. And when we go through tough times, when we make big decisions as a country, it necessarily stirs passions, stirs up controversy.

Those on the left talk a lot about civility as if only those on the right are uncivil.  This is not the first time Obama has called for civility.  In the wake of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, Obama said, “a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to our challenges as a nation.”  In August, a Georgetown Law student was invited to the ABA’s Annual Meeting in Chicago to discuss “a Law Student’s Encounter with Incivility” when conversations about the HHS mandate disintegrated into ad hominem attacks.   It soon became Democrat talking points to slam Republicans for not being civil.

As Obama observed last night, politics is passionate.  But being swayed by one’s passions is not how a lawyer, a Supreme Court justice or a president should act.  Judge Michael Mukasey wisely told law school graduates, an attorney must engage in “dispassionate and reasoned analysis.”

During the most divisive time in our nation’s history – The Civil War – Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican lawyer said, “We are not enemies, but friends.  Though passions may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.”

On November 6, some let their passions run amok.  Let’s not let November 7 be the start of our next civil war.


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