Terry Paulson

If there is one thing that Americans ought to unite on, it is our commitment to work to improve and sustain our great country. We may disagree on what path to follow, but there should be no difference in our commitment to preserve and improve this blessed republic.

Most Americans watching Obama's first post-election 60 Minutes interview would have to been impressed with his warmth, his measured responses, his temperament and many of his early priorities. He’s focused on ensuring a smooth transition for his security team and on addressing the distressed economy. His cabinet appointments are more moderate than many expected. Whether the ideas come from Lincoln, Roosevelt or Reagan, Obama is promising to work hard to make a better America.

So what does it mean to be a member of the loyal opposition? First, there should be zero tolerance for violent demonstrations or threats. Our country is built on the assumption of responsible freedom of speech. That freedom is at times noisy with the clatter of disagreement where the best answer to objectionable speech is more speech.

All presidents want to leave a legacy and translate their election victories into meaningful change. Every improvement is the result of change. Not every change is an improvement. The past will always have value, but it shouldn’t have an automatic veto. Our country must balance two priorities—take the best from the past that still works and be open to any change that will make us better.

That change-tradition tension means conflict for any vital democracy. Liberals rightly resented any suggestion that criticism of the war in Iraq made them unpatriotic. Likewise, conservatives rightly bristle when their disagreements with Obama or their support of traditional marriage are labeled as bigotry or hatred. Such attacks should invite more civil speech, not silence or aggressive attacks.

My Great uncle used to say, "When one person calls you a horse's (behind), don't worry. When four people do, buy a saddle." For a president, you have to add a few zeroes to that number, but every president will, at times, deserve that saddle! The loyal opposition must never be silent. They should care enough to confront and respectfully defend the values and policies they champion while being willing to support any president when they can.

So continue to write your letters to the editor, but try sitting on them for a day before sending. There’s too much screaming and blind cheerleading in America today. We should all express our opinions with civility and respect.

Terry Paulson

Terry Paulson, PhD is a psychologist, award-winning professional speaker, author of The Optimism Advantage: 50 Simple Truths to Transform Your Attitudes and Actions into Results, and long-time columnist for the Ventura County Star.

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