Throughout the shutdown last week, partisans voiced their contempt, even loathing, for the other side.
Among the mind-numbing barrage was this tweet promoted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee: Obamacare Sucks. It Must Be Repealed. Sign the Petition.
Even President Barack Obamas Twitter account succumbed to blunt posting: Take Note, Obamacare is here to stay, it tweeted on the second day of the shutdown.
And this is the work of party leaders – the backbenchers are worse.
Yet arent these sorts of cheap shots simply par for the political course? Does it really matter?
Well, yes, it does. Democracies run on public discourse, with the business of self-government more or less transacted through political rhetoric. Rhetoric is not something attached to government; its the essence of it. And just as graceful rhetoric can elevate the republic and that for which it stands, rude rhetoric has a corrosive quality that can seep into and weaken the nations bones.
Rhetoric can rally us to transcend difference and embrace a higher purpose. It can also warn us: Political antagonists first mount their lecterns before mounting the barricades. Finally, observing rules of rhetoric and decorum mimics the civic exercise of following laws.
This Congress will see no one thrashed by an opponents cane. Nor will this shutdown, and a fast-approaching crisis on the debt ceiling, lead to civil war. But neither is the intensifying battle between the parties a mere theatrical production. In a moment of high conflict, low rhetoric makes the situation worse – and recovery harder.
On Oct. 4, apparently sensing that rhetorical boundaries had frayed, Harry Reid, D-Nev., the tart-tongued majority leader, called on the Senate, himself included, to work harder to maintain habits of civility and decorum. The House and White House should do likewise.