Introductory Remarks at Jackson Town Hall
Remarks by Congressman Tom McClintock
Town Hall Meeting
June 19, 2017
I want to thank you all for coming this evening.
Last week, a terrible event occurred in Alexandria, and I believe it is a warning of the road our society has taken recently. This is not a reflection on the political motivations of the assailant. We all know there is a lunatic fringe on both sides of the political spectrum, and the next attack could just as easily come from one side as the other.
I’ve heard it said we need unity. But before we have unity, we must have civility, and that’s what we’ve lost. I’ve been holding town hall meetings about once a month for the last nine years. But only since the first of the year have we seen people shouting obscenities and vulgarities and shouting down viewpoints they disagree with.
If someone disagrees with you over Obamacare, it doesn’t mean they want to kill your wife. If someone is concerned about illegal immigration, it doesn’t mean they hate immigrants. If someone supports abortion, it doesn’t mean they want to kill babies. It means they don’t see the issue the same way you do. That calls for discussion, not confrontation.
When we ascribe these kinds of motives to those we disagree with, we can’t have civil discourse. And without civil discourse we end up with what we’re seeing across America today -- civil strife. Civility is what holds a society together, and makes democracy work and we’re losing it.
Fine point of it is that disputes in a democracy are settled by respectful discussions between those with differing viewpoints. That’s what we’ve had at these town halls until this year. That’s how democracies work – by convincing others who don’t agree with you to your way of thinking. We can’t tell the good ideas from the bad ideas unless we can honestly compare them. It doesn’t mean we go away agreeing – it means we go away thinking.
Human nature being what it is, you simply can’t do that by insulting and intimidating and shouting down those you disagree with. When somebody in a crowd called Lincoln “a liar,” he replied, “Friend, you cannot disprove Euclidian geometry by calling Euclid a liar.” And you cannot prevail in a democracy by calling those you disagree with “haters” or “killers.”
Civility is the only way you can have a discussion that will bring people to a meeting of the minds. Which is why I’ve begun each of our town halls this year by pointing out that our form of government is very good at resolving exactly the kind of differences we’re having as a society right now, providing we’re talking WITH each other and not shouting AT each other.
In the light of what happened last Wednesday, we need to ask ourselves how much farther down the road we’re on right now we really want to travel. We can all answer that question this evening by treating each other with the respect and civility that democracy needs in order to work.