Campaigns need to promote civil discourse, dignity

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By Harold Morgan

Ideas for our coming campaign season: Respect and dignity.
In offering these ideas as a thematic umbrella for the races for governor, U. S. Senate and, indeed, all others, I am not suggesting boredom, ponderous speeches with long explications of obscurity. Nor am I suggesting that candidates refrain from discussion of the opponent’s record.
Candidates must talk about matters that will make a difference in voter’s lives and they must discuss these subjects with vigorous statements that will get voters’ attention. Talking about the opponent’s record is the best way to create contrast, which is necessary to provide a reason to vote one way or the other.
The problem is how the messages are presented. Or not presented, as in the case of Albuquerque Republican mayoral candidate Dan Lewis.
We have a long record of political nastiness. At our country’s beginning, wrote historian Gordon Wood recently in the Wall Street Journal, “The conservative and liberal parties – the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans, respectively – were led by two distinguished patriots, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and the partisan campaigns waged by their parties were bitter and scurrilous.”
Respect and dignity were the ideas offered Sept. 28 by Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Silveria’s framework was narrower than an election campaign but the concept generalizes easily. In response to racial slurs scrawled outside the rooms of five African-American cadets, Silveria convened everyone at the Academy, the 4,000 cadets and 1,500 staff.
He said, “The appropriate response is a better idea… We have a better idea. What we should have is a civil discourse.”
Silveria talked about “the power of our diversity.” Most important in my opinion, he said, “If you can’t treat someone with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”
He powerfully applied the theme to gender, race, skin color, “demean(ing) someone in any way,” and, really, anything else.
There will be respect and dignity. And, he said to the assembly, if you can’t conduct yourself with respect and dignity to others, leave.
George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower would have applauded. Both were unity candidates, drafted to unite the country after tumultuous times. Both were generals. Both had their fair share of crises.
“Crises there will continue to be,” Eisenhower observed in his farewell address. Eisenhower said of his two terms, “The Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation(al) good, rather than mere partisanship.”
In his farewell address, Washington wrote, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
The “vulgar and evil” that is the definition of scurrilous came last month to the first round of the Albuquerque mayoral election.
In a campaign email, Keller said, “Tim fought for and passed the nation’s strongest sex offender laws to date.”
This is an exaggeration at best. Keller’s statement links to HB 570, introduced in 2013 by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas.
Keller, by himself, did not pass the bill, the two houses of the Legislature did with one negative vote. Not much fighting was needed.
The Keller email was in defense of attacks on Keller by the representative of a land development company.
Keller supported in 2011 Senate Bill184, which for some technical-legal reasons limited residence restrictions on sex offenders.
According to an Albuquerque Journal story, the attacks claimed Keller supports “most hideous criminal offenders in society,” a debatable designation. For the run-off, Lewis has embraced the outlandish charges.
Scurrilous enough for you?
There is a better idea.