Former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman says Washington is laboring under a “civility deficit” that should be closed by cooling off political rhetoric.
“I want people with passion; I want them to thoroughly support what they believe in. But there are ways to do that that generate greater civil discourse,” Coleman, now CEO of the non-profit American Action Network, say in an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV. “And there is a civility deficit in Washington. And if that can be addressed, I just think that would be a good thing.”
He rejects the suggestion -- popular on the left -- that conservative political rhetoric had a role in the recent Tucson shooting rampage. He says a civil tone in politics makes sense regardless of worries that liberals are using Tucson to silence conservatives.
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“Beyond the shooting, beyond the great tragedy, I think there is a legitimate concern about the nature of the division in his country and the nature of the rhetoric,” Coleman said. “And so I think most Americans would tell you they don’t see the shooting connected to political rhetoric but on the other hand if you ask them is it good to tone down the rhetoric, they’d say yes.”
Coleman talked to Newsmax during a recent appearance at the Hispanic Leadership Network Conference, an event in Miami that his 501(c)4 group sponsored to get Republicans talking about how to better reach out to Hispanic voters.
Coleman suggests that kinder-gentler discourse, while good for its own sake, could also help Republicans win the day on divisive issues such as immigration reform. Right now, he says, the GOP push to reform immigration is “a tough sell” to Hispanic Americans “in part because of some of the tone, some of the debate.”
Strip the debate of any toxic language that lets critics call reformers racists or xenophobes, and the climate for comprehensive immigration reform improves.
Secure borders “should be a universal principle,” Coleman says, “It’s not an anti-immigration principle. America and other countries need to have secure borders, need to know who’s here.”
In the interview, Coleman also says:
- The party can be optimistic about reaching Hispanic voters in the future, citing the midterm elections of Hispanic Republicans to statewide offices in Florida, Nevada and New Mexico, and a win in Idaho for a Hispanic GOP congressional candidate in a district with few Hispanics. “Clearly the new leadership that’s coming up, Hispanic leadership, is tied to Republican principles of limited government, low taxes, unleashing that entrepreneurial spirit,” he said. “And so I think there’s opportunity.”
- Civil debate does not mean re-imposing the fairness doctrine on political speech in the media. “Maybe it may have made sense when you had three TV stations. And even then I don’t think it made sense,” he said. “But no, we don’t need the fairness doctrine. We need people of good will to raise their voices. We need average citizens to turn off the things that they think are not reflective of their feelings. So I trust Americans to make judgements about what they want to listen to. We don’t need the government telling you what you can listen to.”
- He still loves public service, even after losing a re-election campaign that was anything but civil. “I can’t tell you that I’ve run my last race; in the end the public will decide that,” he said. “But I tell you it is kind of nice getting up in the morning every day, opening the paper and not worrying about who’s trying to kill you today, politically. 2010 was the first time in 19 years that I was not either in office or running for office. So I’m enjoying the opportunity I have to spend more time fishing, going to the lake on a summer Sunday in Minnesota with my family.
“On the other hand, my heart is still in public service, and you never know what the future holds.”
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