Civil discourse: Tradition and necessity

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Over the past decade, the level of partisan warfare has risen to the point where there is virtual deadlock in Congress. In New Hampshire, a similar hyper-partisan approach to governance characterized the N.H. House from 2010-2012. The resulting disregard for civility, respect for alternative voices, and preference for “scorched earth” tactics was completely at variance with New Hampshire political traditions and was rejected by the electorate in 2012. Yet the problem remains.

The challenge in politics is how to balance strongly held beliefs with the need to find common ground, to respect, listen to, and work with people of varying points of view. Americans take pride in diversity and free speech, but we must acknowledge it also requires that we respect and work with one another. Starting from the premise that no one has a monopoly upon what is right and good, politics requires civil discourse in order to function well and hopefully produce outcomes promoting the general good. This is the challenge we face as political leaders, activists, voters and observers.

You can join in on a discussion about this critical issue by participating in the inaugural Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse, which will be held on Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture, 19 Grove St., Peterborough. The speaker will be Senator Judd Gregg, whose political career included serving in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and as Governor of New Hampshire.

Gregg will provide his perspective on the deterioration of civil discourse, examples of bipartisan cooperation during his own years in public service, and his thoughts about restoring functionality to government. Following Gregg’s presentation, the floor will be open to conversation, which I will moderate. If you would like to submit a question for discussion, email by 4 p.m. today, with “civil discourse” in the subject line. You are also invited to submit a viewpoint piece, approximately 500 words, sharing your own view on this issue for publication in Tuesday’s viewpoints page. Send your submission to by Thursday at 5 p.m.

The Walter Peterson Forum for Civil Discourse is a partnership between the Monadnock Center for History and Culture and the New England Center for Civic Life at Franklin Pierce University, with support from The Monadnock-Ledger Transcript.

Douglas Ley holds a Doctorate in History from University of Wisconsin and has taught history at Franklin Pierce University since 1991. Ley has developed courses in U.S. political history, the history of New England, and a history of American sports, the latter of which also includes a significant component on ethical reasoning. He has worked with New England Center for Civic Life on the use of deliberative dialogue in classroom. Ley, a resident of Jaffrey since 1992, decided to run for office to bring these experiences and interests to bear in New Hampshire Legislature. His campaign was successful and he was elected as a representative for Cheshire District 9 in 2012, where he serves on the House’s Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee.

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