When thinking about what I would write today, I asked myself what is different about The Ohio Republic from other blogs I have read. One thing that comes to mind is that I try to conduct a civil discussion. There are many people with whom I disagree, but I try to treat everyone with respect, at a time when respect can be hard to find.
Two weeks ago, I exchanged comments with a reader who disagreed with me when I considered the image of President Obama resembling Batman's Joker character to be in bad taste. This was, of course, an esthetic and moral judgement -- to each his own; but it also reflects a loss of civility in political discussion. We have traded policy debates for ad hominem attacks on officeholders; and have abandoned objectivity for partisanship. One example that particularly distresses me, is how people are judged by their preference for Fox News vs. CNN. We would be better off if more people viewed both.
I would like at this point to give kudos to State Rep. Ted Celeste (D-Upper Arlington, left). I have never met Rep. Celeste; and from what I have read of his policy positions, we are likely to disagree on many more issues than those on which we would agree. However, Rep. Celeste has, for at least two years, been conducting an ongoing campaign for greater civility in political discussion. The Columbus Dispatch gave notice to his campaign twice this weekend. Yesterday, the Dispatch published his letter to the editor, in which he noted several recent incidents: town hall meetings being disrupted by anger and shouting, some appearances in which some demonstrators were appearing with loaded weapons, school districts refusing to carry the President's address in the schools (a position with which I disagreed*), and talk-show hosts encouraging the downfall of the administration.
Rep. Celeste summarized his reaction thus:
We politicians are as much to blame as anyone. Our discourse has become partisan and angry, thoughtless and hurtful and totally lacking in civility. We are headed down a very dangerous path, and this is not the type of leadership that our constituents expect of us.
I completely agree.
Following up on this letter, Dispatch columnist Joe Hallett wrote a touching column on Kimberly Kelly, a woman who is caring for her adult son, who suffers from mitochondrial encephalomyopathy, which prevents him from speak, sit up, change positions, roll over or effectively perform any task without assistance. His mother depends on nursing assistance provided by a Medicaid program to enable her to work for a living and have a little time for herself. She was testifying at a House hearing, which as Mr. Hallett notes, is a real sacrifice for many constituents: "These citizens often burn vacation days, arrange for babysitters and drive a distance. For them, testifying at the Statehouse is unique and scary -- and a really big deal."
Mr. Hallett continues the story:
She maintained composure through her testimony, making it succinct. She invited the legislators to her Hilliard home to see how she and Joe live. When she finished, state Rep. John Patrick Carney, a Columbus Democrat, rudely lectured her, according to witnesses.
"I had to get up and leave, I was so frustrated," said Rep. Ted Celeste, a Columbus Democrat who later apologized to Kelly and was the only representative who visited her home.
"I wanted to tell her there were some of us on the committee who would take her up on the offer, and there were some of us who do care."
Instead of offering sympathy and understanding, Carney told Kelly she should be testifying in the Senate, because it was the Republicans who were threatening nursing services for her son by blocking needed revenues.
Mr. Hallett reports that Rep. Carney later apologized for his lecture to Mrs. Kelly.
Regardless of how one feels about the program, Rep. Celeste showed compassion above and beyond the call of duty, and reminds the rest of us of why it is important that we show respect for each other.
The Ohio Republic is committed to maintaining a respectful tone, and (subject to occasional slippage due to time considerations) to research our facts before expressing an opinion.
To me, this is the least we can do. The sad part is, we need Rep. Celeste to remind us of it.
* I have no objection to any President addressing schoolchildren directly, as long as they are not using schoolchildren to advance a political agenda. I have seen no evidence that President Obama has done so any more than any of his predecessors. Those who are concerned about this should have used the moment, not to shield their children from the President's message, but to help them think critically about what he said -- that is, to help them (as is age-appropriate) to form their own opinions.