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COMMENTARY: Let's strive for civility during political discussions this year

Every election year our mail, newspapers and televisions are filled with political material. Usually we can expect that much of what we read or see will be tempered by the special interests of someone. This is no less true now that corporations have been guaranteed the right to free speech and unlimited spending. It is unfortunate that so much of the material is loaded with half truths, misleading information or labeling: Bush has big ears and Obama has a mustache, congress members "hate America," governors and state legislators and even local officials and candidates are besmirched.

There are some things that are almost always true. We know that issues will be reduced to sound bites and slogans. If asked, most people will like tax cuts, dislike deficits, and suggest cutting programs that benefit others, but not themselves. We know that the economy is bad, unemployment too high, schools are failing, medical programs cost too much and we either like or dislike the war or wars, immigration is not being handled correctly and the list goes on and on.

Real problems are much more complex than we like to think and solutions are not as easy as we want to think. For example, the argument that taxes are too high fails to recognize that taxes today are lower than the rates of the past. Under Eisenhower the top rate was 91 percent, under Reagan the top was more than 70 percent and when Clinton raised the top rate back to 39 percent, 3 percent raise, we had economic growth and a positive flow of government income. (The national debt could have been paid off by 2012 if that policy had continued.)

Most everyone dislikes property taxes. However, when we reduce the state budgets and lower state taxes, local governments still must pay their bills and they rely on the property tax.

We want to limit the size and cost of government but when something happens, like a flood or storm, we call on the government for help. At the same time as the Louisiana governor asked for aid in the oil spill, he rejected regulation of the gulf oil industry. The governor of Minnesota, who rejected millions for medical aid, is asking for federal aid for the flooding victims in our state. People in Louisiana, who wanted smaller government, complained because the government lacked the expertise and/or money to solve the problems they faced.

We view immigration as a major problem but are unable or unwilling to stop hiring undocumented workers. We don't have a way to identify them, and the borders are very hard to control. If they don't pay taxes or pay into social security, it could be the fault of the employers who hire them but don't do withholding. If they are taking our jobs, why don't we have long lines of people wishing to pick lettuce, beans or other products?

Because much of our political dialogue consists of sound bites, slogans and misinformation, it is important that we attend the debates and discussions sponsored by local groups. As we discuss our political issues, we need to seek information and understanding of the complexity and strive for civility in our discourse. Rutgers University has a program we could all learn from. It seeks to restore niceness and civility in the way we treat each other.

Norm Leistikow is chair of the Hubbard County DFL.

Editor's note: Hubbard County Republicans have been invited to write commentaries during the election season as well. The Enterprise will publish commentaries from each party in upcoming weeks in anticipation of the general election Nov. 2.