Parents, if you watch television this evening with your children in the room, you’d best stand ready with your thumb on the remote, ready to hit the power button. Am I expecting a scene of graphic horror or sordid pornography? No, but I’m quite sure your television will carry a political attack advertisement.
Even as you daily teach him how to behave kindly and with respect, he will see our political leaders at their very worst. He will listen as they vilify one another in a way that would never be allowed in his home or classroom.
For while he’s been taught the Golden Rule, current political campaigns seem to run on that rule’s antithesis: Do unto others before they can do it to you. Candidates seem compelled to destroy each other’s credibility. Rather than focusing on each other’s strengths and contributions to public life, they delight in catching each other in a mistake.
This model of meanness is not lost on children, who learn about bullying and intimidation from these leaders. So rather than providing an ideal for our children to look up to, these dirty campaigners provide disillusionment for us all.
While dirty politics is nothing new, past leaders debated ideas with less nastiness. The early friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson enabled them to work together on the Declaration of Independence. But soon their very real philosophical differences had them in hot debate. They rarely saw eye to eye.
Through it all, their discourse remained respectful and polite. In fact, following their Presidential terms, they corresponded for many years in letters now stored in the National Archives.
Their letters are often argumentative and their differences of opinion lasted until their deaths hours apart on July 4, 1826.
But the tone of these letters is one of deep respect for a worthy contender. Toward the end of one correspondence, Jefferson voiced genuine concern for his old nemesis in these words: “Nights of rest to you and days of tranquility are the wishes I tender you with my affect[iona]te respects.”
Respect for one another and civil discourse would lead to “nights of rest and days of tranquility” for the weary electorate and their children, too. Just what we all hope for when this campaign season—finally—comes to an end.