I like to think the heated arguments over health-care reform that we see on television aren’t the norm.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy a spirited debate about issues – I’m all for such conversations as long as they don’t get out of hand. People should feel free to disagree with each other in a point/counterpoint way, not a loudmouthed, name-calling way. A debate without civility is an argument that never wins over the other side. (It’s true you might not win the other side over anyway, but at least your decorum should be respected by your opponent.)
Last week when I wrote my column for Ottawa Delivered about the new health-care reform law, I knew there would be plenty of people who disagreed with me. As always, my charge was to state my opinion and back it up – and to do so in a respectful way that made my points without resorting to cheap shots at those who would disagree with my stance.
I believe I succeeded in that task, and I’m proud to say that those who commented on my column and the health-care issue in general on Ottawa Delivered’s Facebook page kept the conversation civil and respectful of each other, even though there were definite differences in opinion being expressed.
Some people agreed with what I wrote. Others disagreed with me, but weren’t rude about it. I like to think this is the norm among those who engage in the health-care debate in “real America” (in other words, not on TV or otherwise in a glaring spotlight of mainstream media attention).
With that said, I want to compliment Adam Kinzinger for taking the simple step of saying a few words to defuse any potential ugliness that might have been waiting in the wings at his health-care forum in Ottawa last week.
When it comes to the health-care reform issue, I don’t agree with Kinzinger, the Republican nominee in Illinois’ 11th Congressional District race. I think the new health-care reform law isn’t perfect but is a move in the right direction; he agrees with the Republican party line of “repeal and replace” (which really isn’t a feasible plan, in my opinion). But as someone who values civil discourse, I appreciated Kinzinger’s appeal to his town-hall attendees not to jeer those who disagreed with them.
Guess what? It worked. Sure, most of the crowd probably agreed with Kinzinger’s point of view, but there were at least a few in the audience who didn’t – and they made it known through polite exchanges with the candidate.
I also liked that Kinzinger acknowledged there are some parts of the new health-care law he agrees with – specifically, not letting insurance companies deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and allowing children to be insured under their parents’ plan until age 26.
Noting there are some good things to be found in an opponent’s plan can go a long way in fostering civil discourse. Unfortunately, politicians and mainstream political pundits willing to admit somebody with an opposing viewpoint has a decent idea might as well be placed on the endangered species list. That’s part of the reason why a relatively unknown politician like Barack Obama could ride a promise of bipartisanship all the way to the White House – because, in my opinion, most people want civil discourse rather than continual partisan bickering that accomplishes little.
We should expect no less from our elected officials. But remember, they ultimately take their cues from us. We must set the example for them – not the other way around.
A version of this column will appear in this week’s issue of Ottawa Delivered.