Bemoaning the Loss of Civility in Politics

Colin Powell: Does he think civility has returned to politics?About 10 years ago, General Colin Powell said he would not run for President because he "bemoaned the loss of civility in politics."

Well, I'm no Colin Powell, but I share his point and the quote has stuck with me for years.

I long for the day when, despite our partisan and philosophical differences, we can return a measure of civility to the development of public policy.

Oregonians -- all Oregonians -- would be better for it.

Consider when civility reigned, at least for a short moment, more than 20 years ago.  Representatives of business and labor gathered at the governor's residence, Mahonia Hall, at the behest of former governor, Neil Goldschmidt, to set about the business of reforming the state's workers' compensation system which, then, was a major negative in keeping or retaining businesses in Oregon.

Figuratively, at least, the group didn't leave the residence until it produced the landmark reforms, which have stood the test of time.

Today, workers' comp is a major draw for business development and the consensus is that both workers and businesses are protected by a well-balanced system.

There may be other examples, but, too often, political discourse these days ends up in disagreement and acrimony.  There is competition to see which party can lead the legislature, not which party can lead the production of solutions to pressing problems -- health care coverage, transportation system planning, rural economic development, higher education funding and tax reform.

It used to be that legislators and lobbyists -- all citizens -- could contend for policy development during the day and then adjourn to a restaurant at night for a friendly dinner.

Two commodities are needed in the business of civility.  One is political leadership.  We need leaders who will bring parties together, not just to decide winners and losers, but to produce solutions.  We also need political followership.  We need interests who will sacrifice their own agendas to follow smart leaders, not puppet-like, to find the smart middle ground.

It is good to see others feel the same way.  Both John Kitzhaber and Chris Dudley have made "bringing people together" a central theme of their gubernatorial campaigns.  Let's hope action and results follow words.

A return to civility in politics?  Too much to hope for, you might say.

Well, I, for one, hope that Colin Powell's "bemoaning the loss of civility" comment can become an even more distant memory.