The sad and unexpected passing of former North Dakota Attorney General Nicholas Spaeth this week got me thinking of the real human effects that serving in a public office can have on those who put their names on the ballot. Often times, those of us who serve as pundits, and those of us who view governing and politics as almost a sport, can forget the fact that behind ever person who we vilify or whom we disagree is a person with back-story and with a passion to serve.
Sadly, with all the passion we have for the issues, it can be really hard to remember that there can and should be a place for civility in politics.
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As I think of this, I am reminded of a conversation I was able to listen to many years back. I was volunteering for a campaign that had just been victim to a harsh round of negative campaigning by the opposition. The candidate stated that she couldn’t believe that she was finding herself starting to hate her opponent. Within earshot was several other elected officials who had ran many races, and each had to admit having the same feeling from time to time during campaigns. However, the most established person in the group leaned forward and said “the important thing is to understand that you are going to feel that hate, but you cannot hold on to it.”
When I speak of civility, I don’t mean that politics should not be a full contact activity. I really believe that there is a time and a place for aggressive and even negative campaigning. When you put your name on a ballot, you open your life up to public scrutiny.
However, there is a fine line between attacking a candidate’s position or their qualifications and attacking the candidate as a person and/or attacking their family.
In a democracy, we all have a voice, and that is what makes it work. It is not a perfect form of government, but as Winston Churchill once said so eloquently, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.” Even when your side looses on an issue or an election, you get to go home, lick your wounds, and try again. The great American experiment has survived and gotten stronger over the past 200 plus years. Whatever you think of the current state of the country, you will have a chance to participate its future.
However, we can all work a little harder to show a little more respect to those who run and those who serve in office. We don’t have to agree, we don’t have to like what a person stands for, but we can still show respect for the person and the office.