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Alaska governors and the call for civility in our politics

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2011

Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik set the conversation for many of us when, amidst the need to make sense of the heinous shooting in Tucson, he couldn’t help but note the hateful tone of our nation’s rhetoric. This, in turn, has put in motion a national discussion on the role and responsibility of leaders, parties and the media. However, along with this societal soul searching, there is also finger pointing going on and who should wind up in some crosshairs of her own making … our former Governor.

It did not take long before some critics even suggested that Representative Gifford’s blood was on Sarah Palin’s hands. This is clearly an overreach and not constructive to the greater discussion on what’s acceptable to the civil discourse of democracy. But what is not an overreach is for Palin to examine her role in fueling the polarizing rhetoric to new, all time lows.

Prior to the candidacy of Barack Obama, when politicians disagreed with each other they were simply misinformed, uniformed, biased or used poor judgment. Now we demonize them and draw Hitler mustaches. We also have Tea Party leaders intoning that those who disagree are unpatriotic and in search of freedoms to take away. Some even create the notion of ‘death panels.’ Next, we have radio and TV personalities repeat these demonizing, frightening comments over and over again; magnifying the hatred and mistruths to a level we’ve never seen before. This is what has changed. This is what Sheriff Dupnik is calling our attention to.

So how do we return to a more civil society? For starters, can we all accept that the President of the United State is not a capitalist-killing socialist regardless of who he/she is? Can we acknowledge that all political parties hold the U.S. Constitution sacred? Can we ask elected officials and those running for office to sign a ‘civility’ pledge when discussing political differences? Can we ask them to refrain from charged, violent-tinged rhetoric? This is the magnitude of the discussion that this horrific event deserves.

President Obama eloquently called for this type of national discourse in his remarks at the Arizona memorial stating, “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost.” He urged us to “not use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other.” He also implored us to “talk to each other in a way that heals” and “not in a way that wounds”

It is in this context, that I hope our former Governor will reconsider her role and make more appropriate remarks that would further civil discourse. Blaming the media pundits for committing ‘blood libel’ after the shooting does not heal. Clearly, as the spokesperson for divisive voices in America, Governor Palin needs a ‘do over’ in offering guidance at this critical time of national reflection.

It is in this regard, that I want to share the words of another former Governor … Walter Hickel. In September 2009, he wrote an op-ed critical of Palin’s divisive role in American politics. He titled this column “Alaskans Can Rise Above Petty Politics and Hateful Acts.” Here are some excerpts germane to today’s events and discussions: “Some Americans today are uncomfortable with the changing face of America. Anger and frustration are invading our national discourse. [Palin] missed a golden opportunity (referring to the McCain/Palin campaign) to challenge the rest of the country to adopt the welcoming spirit of the Alaska frontier and the message of mutual respect. When we represent Alaska to the rest of the country, let’s go beyond our stereotypes. Let’s also make Alaska known for respect for all people and reject those who would use racial and class division for personal or political reason.”

We certainly can’t blame the heinous act of a madman on any one political leader or draw a direct causal connection to our current state of vitriolic politics, but we all can reflect on how to go beyond our stereotypes and elevate the importance of civil discourse in our political affairs. It is my hope that Gov. Palin will honor Gov. Hickel and do the same by seeking those words that heal instead of wound.

• Troll is a long-time Alaskan with more than 22 years of experience in fisheries, coastal policy and energy policy. She resides in Douglas.



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