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Senator Blanche Lincoln, an Arkansas Democrat, likes to tell the story of her first encounter with the late Congressman Bill Emerson, a Missouri Republican. Emerson invited Lincoln and others to enjoy barbecue at his home because, he said: “We may be from different parties and different states, but we can still get along.”
I sometimes fear that when Bill Emerson died, civility died with him. Author and blogger Andrew Sullivan writes that a sizable portion of Americans today have “lapsed into total ideological hysteria.” St. Louis’s own Bill McClellan echoes this sentiment, suggesting it might be time to do what our ancestors fought a war to prevent, namely: create two nations from one.
No matter how tongue-in-cheek that suggestion was intended, I hope a majority of us would reject it. I hope we still believe that, despite our differences, we are stronger together than apart; that there’s a much better – and easier – path forward than creating the Liberal and Conservative States of America.
This better path forward was articulated recently by Bill Emerson’s widow, Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson. She voted to rebuke a now infamous colleague who shouted “You Lie!” at President Obama. Explaining her vote, Emerson said we have a “responsibility to conduct [ourselves] with dignity and respect.”
Dignity and respect. Think of them as the ingredients of the simple medicine that, if taken daily, might just cure us of the “ideological hysteria” that has corrupted our national conversations.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Pete Abel is a public affairs executive. He serves on the boards of Stages St. Louis and the Greater Missouri Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association. Previously, he served as managing editor of the political blog “The Moderate Voice.” His career started in 1985, first as a freelance reporter and later as a full-time staff writer for the St. Louis Suburban Journals, covering municipal politics and local businesses.