Tuesday at a St. Patrick’s Day lunch on Capitol Hill in Washington, President Barack Obama commented on the tone of the 2106 presidential election.
Obama said, “I know that I’m not the only one in this room who may be more than a little dismayed about what’s happening on the campaign trail lately. We have heard vulgar and divisive rhetoric aimed at women and minorities. Americans who don’t look like us or pray like us or vote like we do. We’ve seen misguided attempts to shut down that speech, however offensive it may be. We live in a country where free speech is one of the most important rights that we hold. In response to those attempts, we’ve seen actual violence. And we’ve heard silence from too many of our leaders. Speaker Ryan, I appreciated the words on this topic that you shared with us this morning. But too often, we’ve accepted this as somehow the new normal. And it’s worth asking ourselves what each of us may have done to contribute to this kind of vicious atmosphere in our politics.”
“I suspect that all of us can recall some intemperate words that we regret,” he continued. “Certainly I can. And while some may be more to blame than others for the current climate, all of us are responsible for reversing it. For it is a cycle that is not an accurate reflection of America. And it has to stop. And I say that not because it’s a matter of political correctness, it’s about the way the corrosive behavior can undermine our democracy and our society and even our economy. In America, there aren’t laws that say we have to be nice to each other, or courteous s or treat each other with respect, but there are norms. There are customs. There are values that our parents taught us and we try to teach to our children. To try to treat others the way we want to be treated. The notion that kindness breeds kindness. The longer that we allow the political rhetoric of late to continue and the longer that we tacitly accept it, we create a permission structure that allows the animosity to infect our broader society, and animosity breeds animosity. And this is also about the American brand. Who are we? How are we perceived around the world? There’s a reason that America has always attracted the greatest talent from every corner of the globe. There’s a reason that made in America means something. It’s because we’re creative and dynamic and diverse and inclusive and open. Why would we want to see that brand tarnished?”
“The world pays attention to what we say and what we do,” he added. “This is also about what we are teaching our children. We should not have to explain to them this darker side of politics. We should not be afraid to take them to a political rally or let them watch political debates. We should be teaching them that this democracy is a vibrant and precious thing, and it’s going to be theirs someday. And we want them to elevate it.”
Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN