As I write this morning, my email inbox has 74,382 messages. For as long as there has been email, I’ve been in a losing battle with my inbox. I press delete. I discard. I clean up. I use special filters and file folders. I sift. I sort. I use a variety of online tools I’m told are intended to help me control the uncontrollable and make my life more manageable. I haven’t given up just yet. I’ve decided this will be the year I do something about it. Better email organization is one of my two New Year’s resolutions.
The other resolution is more important to me. It has to do with civility in the public arena and in everyday political discourse.
For the last seven years I’ve written a weekly column, generally targeted to a wide at-large audience. I have used this space to inform and, harkening to my days as a journalist, to “break news” and to educate. I’ve purposefully written in a way intended to persuade people to support free markets, limited and transparent government, and conservative principles.
In the many thousands of words I have written about Idaho public policy and politics since 2009, I have tried to opine in a fashion that questioned policies and also that promoted solutions. I have tried to refrain from attacking a person’s motives, character or integrity. Of course, the very nature of public policy can lead to division, and plenty of it.
When a column focuses on an individual, I have tried to make it a practice to contact the person I’m writing about, to better understand that person’s position, or at least to let that person know he or she is the focus of my commentary. I don’t always do this, which means I have some work to do in this regard.
For 2016, I would like those of us who work in the public sphere to do better, also. That’s a comment directed at my critics who regularly comment on my level of intelligence, fixate on helping me relocate to Iraq, and those who plead with opinion-page editors to silence me because they disagree. It would be more interesting and more valuable to hear why my policies are disliked than why I’m evil, rotten, or otherwise stupid.
On the other hand, if you believe government solves problems, don’t assume that my free market approach means I want people to die in the streets, struggle in poverty or be uneducated. I don’t. I happen to believe my approach to governance will do more to lift people up from poverty and improve their condition than any other proposed solution. Similarly, people who support conservative principles shouldn’t assume that liberals are motivated by a desire to harm the country.
In 2016 I pledge to get a handle on my email. That’s my challenge alone. For my other goal, I ask for some help.
I think 2016 — an election year, no less — should also be the year we raise the bar on public discourse, to refrain from insults and personal attacks that are so common in the political theater of other states and within the Beltway. We can do better than that. It’s a challenge to me, to the readers of this commentary, to my staff members, and to the people who represent our opposition. We’ll never be perfect, but we can start by being focused on the desired outcome. Let 2016 be the year we make cordiality and civility commonplace again. I’m committed. How about you?