Stephen Kokx
Civility in politics
By Stephen Kokx
May 19, 2012

Although he could have blamed Sarah Palin and the Tea Party for Jared Lee Loughner's shooting rampage, Barack Obama played the role of uniter in chief, if only for a moment, by calling on elected officials last January to tone down their political rhetoric and talk in a way "that heals, not a way that wounds."

Though the president pressed the need for more civility, the days that followed were anything but well mannered.

Just weeks after the president's speech, DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) claimed that Republicans were not only at war with women, but that they wanted to push grandma off a cliff and drag society back to the Jim Crow era. She didn't just disobey the president's desire to use words that heal, she contradicted her own claim that "the demonization of our [political] leaders is absolutely unacceptable."

Schultz isn't alone in her outlandish remarks. Howard Dean, a former Democratic candidate for president, recently accused Republicans of being racist; claiming that they simply "don't like Latinos." Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball, similarly referred to the Tea Party as a bunch of "crackpots" not long ago.

As a writer, I too am guilty of incivility at times. Being a polemicist is much more enjoyable than being a non controversialist. But whenever I stray too far into the name calling end of the pool, I try to remind myself about how the gift of language is supposed to be used.

The Letter of James tells us that even though "the tongue is a small part of the body" it "corrupts the whole body." Like the spark of fire that sets the forest ablaze, the tongue often "boasts great things" and cannot be easily tamed. "It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison" that simultaneously praises "our Lord and Father" but also "curses human beings, who have been made in God's image." (James 3: 5-10)

Likewise, the Book of Sirach warns against letting "your mouth become used to coarse talk" because a "man who has the habit of abusive language will never mature in character." (Sirach 23:13,15) It also directs us not to disgrace ourselves "before the city's populace" (Sirach 7:7) and to always have sincerity in our speech, for a "man's tongue can be his downfall" and is not to be used "in calumny." (Sirach 5:15-16)

Furthermore and perhaps most appropriate for politics, are the words found in the Second Letter of Peter: "There will also be false prophets among the people" and "many will follow their licentious ways." However, "like irrational animals" that "revile things that they do not understand," they will "seduce unstable people" by "talking empty bombast." They will tempt them with "desires of the flesh" by "promising freedom, though they themselves are slaves of corruption." (2 Peter 2: 1-22)

After reading this, I am all the more confused as to how Reverend Al Sharpton, a supposed man of God, can intentionally whip up racial tension for his own personal gain. I'm also dumbfounded as to how some on the right, most notably radio talk show host Michael Savage and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, a convert to Catholicism, can speak in such overbearing and condescending ways some times.

Yes, will there be blood (figuratively, mind you). There will be incivility. And yes, there will be deceit, lies and contortions of the truth this coming election season. That's politics. It just shows how fallen mankind is. God fearing people, however, should be aware of how far their attacks should go. On the other hand, they should also realize that being too politically correct can lead to some pretty awkward situations. Just ask CNN's John King. He once had to apologize for using the words "bullet points" and "crosshairs." Talk about insanity.

© Stephen Kokx


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