Weatherford Democrat

Viewpoints

July 9, 2012

EDITORIAL: A return to civility

— A sure sign of democracy at work is an ordinary citizen’s right to participate in public debate.

In small communities all over this country, people exercise this right every day by writing a letter to the editor of their local newspaper.  Thousands of ordinary citizens express their views on subjects both trivial and profound.  Millions of Americans read these letters, either agree or not, reflect on their own views or not, decide to investigate more or not.  Whatever the outcome, Letters to the Editor are your opportunity to share your thoughts with your community, urge action, share thanks, express displeasure or inspire others.

What seems to have been lost in today’s polarized political climate is the notion that rights carry obligations.  At the top of list should be the obligation to be respectful of the right to hold an opposing point of view.

It is unfortunate that our Letters section has devolved to the state that we find today.  To read these letters, one would be led to believe that all conservatives are rich white men out to return us to the days of Medieval servitude or that all liberals are lazy intellectuals bent on turning our country over to the Chinese.  The absurdity of the simplistic generalizations should be obvious.

Unfortunately, some of our contributors use the pages of your paper to wage personal attacks, exaggerate facts and frankly, just be mean.  The demonization of the opposition means that it’s impossible to find those things on which both sides can agree and build from there.  It would do us all good to remember that Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neal were actually friends.

Joseph Pulitzer once said “A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself.”  I think that is also true for letters to the editor.

So beginning today, we will no longer publish letters that attack the character of another.  Argue policy all you want, just leave out the personal.  If you wish to respond to another letter writer, let us know to what letter you are referring and then state your own position, but again, leave out the attacks.  

Those contributors who want to argue back and forth should do so over a cup of coffee at the Iron Skillet – they’re open 24 hours a day so you will have plenty of time and you may just discover that you have more in common than you thought.

We want our paper to be a reflection of our community.  Surely our community can hold public debate, express our views and respect someone else’s right to hold a different opinion.  Surely we can all agree that name calling never solved anything.  Surely we can agree that people of all political beliefs have a place in public life.

After all, that’s the community we really are.

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