Magazine article Insight on the News

Civil Discourse Is Crucial for Democracy to Work

Magazine article Insight on the News

Civil Discourse Is Crucial for Democracy to Work

Article excerpt

Retiring six-term Sen. Claiborne Pell warns that personal piques and pure partisanship will be sand in the gears of government and, as the nation's first president put it,' enfeeble the public administration!

If upon completing six terms in the Senate I could have one wish for the future of our country in the new millennium, it would be that we not abandon the traditional norms of good behavior that are the underpinning of our democratic system.

Comity and civility, transcending differences of party and ideology, always have been crucial elements in making government an effective and constructive instrument of public will. But in times such as these, when the pendulum of history seems to be reversing its swing and there is so much fundamental disagreement about the role of government, it is all the more essential that we preserve the spirit of civil discourse.

It has been distressing of late to hear the complaints of those who would abandon public service because they find the atmosphere mean-spirited. They seem to suggest that the basic rules of civilized behavior have been stifled by an opportunistic system. They make a good point, although I hasten to say that this was not a consideration in my own decision to retire at the end of my present term.

After more than 35 years, I have come to expect a certain amount of rancor in the legislative process. But I certainly agree that it is threatening to get out of bounds. I say this with great respect for my colleagues in the Senate. They are a wonderfully talented group of men and women, dedicated to serving their constituents and to improving the quality of our national life. Even this exceptional group, however, sometimes yields to the virus of discontent which has infected the American body politic.

Last year, before retiring from the Senate to become president of the University of Oklahoma, David Boren sent a letter to his colleagues lamenting the fact that "we have become so partisan and so personal in our attacks upon each other that we can no longer effectively work together in the national interest." It was a thoughtful warning that has meaning far beyond the Senate and applies to our whole national political dialogue.

The fact is that the democratic process depends on respectful disagreement. …

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