Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Civility Is Losing The Battle

I don't plan on writing much about the outcome of the election. Far more astute and learned people than I will write volumes on the subject, and those blessed with political knowledge and the gift of gab will be chewing on this night for a very long time to come. At this point, though, it's not entirely clear what the final result will be. As I write this, no one knows yet who will control the Senate, although the Democrats have won the House. I'm not happy, but I am an optimist, and I'm willing to hope that the Democrats in control of the House will not be as reckless on Iraq as some of them sounded in order to get elected. I admit I have no hope as far as taxes, limiting government, and the more conservative social issues go, but there is another election in two years, and I can pray that the damage will be minimal until we get another crack at this whole "will of the people" thing.

The one thing I do want to write at this point is an anecdotal recap of a few moments from two speeches I heard tonight, one conceding defeat, and another claiming victory, and an observation about the state of civility in the current political atmosphere. I'm going to come across pretty partisan here, but I saw what I saw, and think it's worth relating. Once the polls closed here in Oregon, and the local results had a chance to start filtering in, I turned my TV over to the Northwest cable news station. I'm used to being in the political minority here, so when it became clear to me that my state, once again, voted contrary to my positions on many of the candidates and ballot measures, I took it in stride. I certainly expected nothing different. (I was very disappointed that the voters in Oregon decided once again to deny parents the right to know when their underage daughters are undergoing a major medical procedure, but not surprised. A few of the ballot measures actually did go the way I hoped, just none of the ones involving moral issues or money.)

I hung around the local channel long enough to watch moments from the two speeches I mentioned earlier. The first I'll tell you about was from a Washington Republican. (I think he was running for the Senate, but I'm not sure--I don't even know his name.) At one point during his concession, he took a few moments to congratulate his opponent, and praise her campaign effort. He said something to the effect that we have a great system (or something like it) and talked about us all working together. Then, he called on his supporters to give the victor a round of applause. They did it. I didn't hear any booing, or jeers, just spontaneous applause and cheering. These were the people who lost the election.

Within a few minutes of that, I heard the victory speech of Ted Kulongoski, the Democrat who will be our Governor for another four years here in Oregon. He too had a moment when he spoke of his opponent, Ron Saxton. He was gracious, talked about the civil tradition of the concession phone call, and started, I think, to ask his own supporters for the same kind of appreciative moment for the opposition the Republican from Washington had sought, and gained, for the victor in that race. I don't know what the Governor was going to say, however, because as soon as Ron Saxton's name came out of his mouth, several people in the room started to jeer and boo, rather than applaud. To his credit, the Governor stopped the crowd from continuing, but it was what he said when he did it that really struck me. He made it clear the jeering should stop, but added, as he pointed his finger in the air, "We're better than them." Catch that? We're better than them. Not we're better than that, but better than them. Freudian slip, perhaps, but telling all the same.

What is happening in politics that some people can't even be gracious in victory? What would have been these people's attitude had they lost? I realise that there is a lot of pent up frustration on the part of some Democrats because national politics had not favored them in a long time before this election. I have felt the same frustration myself, many times, by virtue of leaning conservative in a very liberal state, but I hope that I, or any of the people I know to share my political views, would never be so lacking in civility and basic manners as to boo a defeated political rival. It takes politics out of the realm of ideas and makes it a personal attack--rather than disliking a person's ideas, disliking them. After seeing those two speeches, and the two sets of people supporting these candidates, I can't help but challenge the Governor's statement that, "we're better than them." The Democrats may have been the victors in Oregon this evening, but it's not the Republicans who behaved like losers.