Well, it is almost over. By the end of today, we should see a (temporary) end to the onslaught of negative campaign ads that are poisoning the well of political discourse. Hallelujah!
As bad as it has been, over-the-top attacks on your political opponents are "as American as apple pie" says Reason magazine's bloggers. The libertarians at Reason have used actual quotes from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams and their supporters to craft some very funny modern-day candidate attack ads. The 1:43 minute You Tube video starts with comments from TV reporters and President Obama decrying the negativity of this year's campaign, followed by made-up - but historically accurate - campaign ads "from" Jefferson and Adams.
According to Reason, Jefferson really did call John Adams a "blind, bald crippled toothless man" ... "who secretly wants to start a war with France" ... "while he's not busy importing mistresses from Europe." Adams' supporters predicted that if Jefferson was elected, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of the distressed, the soil will be soaked with blood and the nation black with crimes." Makes the Sharon Angle/Harry Reid slug-fest seem tame by comparison, doesn't it?
It is reassuring in a way that personal attacks on opponents go back to the earliest days of the Republic. Yet I worry that the 24/7 media amplification of negative attacks have coarsened our political culture, making reasoned dialogue close to impossible.
And it is one thing when politicians engage in a Mud Fest, but should physicians be held to a higher standard of political discourse?
Yes, says Dr. John Tooker, who recently retired as the Chief Executive Officer for the American College of Physician. (Dr. Tooker continues to serve in an advisory capacity for the ACP.) He blogs on KevinMD that ACP's ethics manual calls on physicians to "work toward ensuring access to health care for all persons; act to eliminate discrimination in health care; and help correct deficiencies in the availability, accessibility, and quality of health services, including mental health services, in the community."
"These very patient care issues - access, discrimination and quality of care" he says, "were front and center in the recent national health care reform debate, to the credit of the physicians that fully engaged in the debate, whether one agrees with the final Affordable Care Act legislation or not."
Yet physicians did not always express their views with the civility, says Dr. Tooker:
"Unfortunately, during the political conversation within our profession, there were also instances of incivility - remarks and statements made by physicians that went beyond the bounds of decency, and at times were perceived as threatening by the recipients of the comments. Instant and reflex electronic communication facilitated such comments - hitting send before thinking twice or thrice - and the opportunity for civil discourse was lost."
He argues that, "Policy makers and politicians are looking to physicians to provide leadership at every level. Because of the standing based on moral principles and education that physicians have within our society, there are and always have been great leadership opportunities to improve the care of our patients and the satisfaction of our profession. If we don't act professionally, we diminish our standing and ability to lead."
Dr. Tooker closes with a reference to another founding father. "There is a small but revealing book, Rules of Civility, by Richard Brookhiser, that describes the moral code that guided George Washington as the first president of our republic during very difficult times. The first rule is: 'Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.'"
Amen! I hope that Dr. Tooker's admonition is something all of us - physicians and non-physicians alike - take to heart as we express our views tomorrow on the results of today's election.
P.S. I was humbled to learn that the ACP Advocate blog has been recommended as "one of the top 10 health care bloggers we are thankful for" by a company that describes itself as a leading source of health management news for 50,000 health executives. I was especially heartened that they characterized the blog as managing "to offer calm, level-headed commentary on topics that often can lead to superheated, highly polarized debates in other forums." Exactly the type of civil discourse I seek to encourage!
Today's questions: What do you think Jefferson, Adams and Washington would make of today's political discourse? And do you think physicians should be held to higher standards of civility, as Dr. Tooker argues?