Yesterday, Maryland Governor Bob Ehrlich, in his State of the State address, chastised state legislators to be more respectful of the office of governor. Too bad there’s too little will and grace in Maryland right now – and in the rest of country – for such respect in politics to prevail. Ehrlich has been engaged in hand-to-hand combat with members of the state legislature for months. Some people blame his efforts to ram through his agenda of slot machines and malpractice reform; others, including the governor, believe that state legislators are to blame. In his address, Ehrlich accused unnamed leaders of “playing the Capitol Hill game of demagoguing on personal ethics.”
My own reading of the situation is that there’s probably some truth on both sides.
But the real problem is that neither side wants to exercise the will to show more grace in their political dealings. The Harwood Institute has long worked on political conduct concerns in the nation; in fact, in the 1980s, that is where much of our work began. We undertook a five-year nationwide initiative to improve the conduct of political leaders, news media and citizens; I wrote a nifty little book on the subject, A New Political Covenant.
In that work, which was based on engaging Americans across the nation on their aspirations for political conduct, it was clear that people want political debate to be vibrant and robust. They want political issues and various perspectives to be aired out. They do not wish for what I call a Miss Manner’s kind of politics.
But nor do they want a politics devoid of grace. Robust debate does not mean rancorous and raunchy debate. Grace is, after all, a sense of propriety and good will. It requires one to tap into a sensibility of decency – to recognize that anything does not go, and sometimes one must refrain from saying the ridiculous or silly or the half-truth. Simply because it is possible to say something does not mean it should be said.
So, I urge the governor and his colleagues in the statehouse to read A New Political Covenantand to make that covenant real. If not for themselves, then for those they serve.
I’d be happy to send a free copy to any and all who would like one – just firstname.lastname@example.org with your request.