In short, once people begin disregarding the norms that keep order in a community, both order and community unravel, sometimes with astonishing speed. Once Sen. Ted Kennedy railed against “Robert Bork’s America,” the stage was set for future arguments over judicial politics.
Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. When order is visibly restored at a basic level, the environment can change.
The need for better political manners has never been greater. Our nation is divided as never before between the left and the right. We are at loggerheads on profoundly important political and social questions.
Who will begin to restore civility? We grizzled veterans of Washington politics hope today’s graduates can.
In the years ahead, our economy will improve, and with it the job prospects for young graduates. Members of the class of 2010 should spend their lives defending their convictions with all the spirit they can, but also with respect for the other side. As they begin their post-college lives, they can demand our political leaders chart a better way forward.
The tea party activists are setting a good example, with spirited rallies that focus on issues, not personalities. And if you’re a member of Congress in a country where citizens demand their leaders act civilly, you’d better be paying attention.
Keeping the pressure on, and keeping the debate on a respectful level, is a job for today’s grads -- and all of us -- to take seriously.