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POLITICO: Rebuilding the 'Civility Caucus'

By: Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II

In “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior,” George Washington states, “Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ‘tis a sign of a tractable and commendable nature; and in causes of passion admit reason to govern.” Our first president understood the importance of civility in the conduct of our political affairs.

In 2005, we formed the Civility Caucus, with members from all political parties and ideologies, to foster a culture of respect and courtesy among members of Congress. We would go to the House floor for “civility hours,” debating on pre-determined subjects — to demonstrate that members can disagree on policy in a respectful, understanding manner and prove partisanship does not mean putting each other down.

Now, we have made a commitment to reignite our efforts to establish a Civility Caucus in Congress. True leaders guide with compassion and by example.

In the days since the Tucson shootings, we have all reflected on the senselessness of the tragedy, but also the prevailing power of the human spirit. We can ask ourselves why this happened. There are no easy answers.

No matter the motivation of the madness, our words and deeds must pay tribute to the sacrifices of those injured or killed that day.

Far too often in our national debate, ideology overshadows problem-solving. The challenges we face can be divisive, but only because the people of this body feel so deeply about them. We must never forget that this sense of duty binds us.

As elected officials, our constituents expect us to fight vehemently for issues about which we care passionately, but with the level of decorum expected from statesmen. No thoughtful American can be satisfied with the tone of our debate on the great issues of our time. It is time we recognize that harmful rhetoric, personal attacks and injurious diatribe are not only destructive to the work, atmosphere and relations among lawmakers, but also the American people.

When we go to the House floor, we must pledge to allow our light to shine and resist the urge to put out the light of others. If we do, the American people will be more likely to follow our footsteps than merely to follow our advice.

We come from diverse backgrounds, cultures and creeds. Regardless of political ideology or pragmatic differences, we all wish to see America free, prosperous and safe. Our disagreements lie not in who we are, or where we come from — but in how we realize our shared future.

Our goal is not to stifle opinions or free speech — but to remind all that democracy demands common decency, thrives on national debate and survives only in an arena in which clear, honest positions are rewarded over scoring political points.

Since Washington was inaugurated in 1789, the virtue of civility has helped define our political culture and guided the peaceful transition of power for more than two centuries.

As we reflect on this tragedy, and on our progress as a nation, let us consider that, despite trials and tribulation, that which unites us must always prevail over that which divides us.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) serves on the House Financial Services Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D –Mo.) serves on the House Financial Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.