After writing two posts on the overheated rhetoric of recent months, I was pleased to see this story today. When Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma held a town hall meeting and the crowd booed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Coburn gently chided the booers: "Come on now ... how many of you all have met her? She's a nice person.... Just because somebody disagrees with you, doesn't mean they're not a good person."
I've previously seen little in Coburn's politics to admire, but this was precisely the right tone. Good for him. May others follow his example.
On a similar note, I had another encouraging experience along these lines myself last night. Wofford College hosted a talk on health care reform by Rep. Bob Inglis, who represents my South Carolina district in Congress. I had never heard Inglis speak before, and I knew that he (like every Republican) had voted against the recently passed bill. So I didn't expect to like much of what I was about to hear.
I was pleasantly surprised. There was no doomsday rhetoric, no hysterical hyperbole, just a reasoned and reasonable explanation of the problems he saw with the bill. As I expected, he was critical of the individual mandate, but not for the reason I expected. Rather than condemn it as an attack on liberty, as so many of his colleagues have, Inglis argued that it was too weak. The financial penalties in the bill, he argued (rather persuasively, I thought) were too small to really create a strong enough financial incentive for the uninsured to buy insurance. And he showed that, unlike most members of his party, he understood that banning insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions necessitates a strong individual requirement to buy insurance.
Inglis strongly supported the idea that there should be universal coverage, that everyone should pay into the system, and that it was a federal responsibility to make this happen. While he repeated what he himself called the Republican orthodoxy (state competition, limiting malpractice), he made it clear that those ideas were not enough, and that he has no philosophical aversion to at least some of the aspects of the health care law that was recently passed.
That's the good news. Here's the bad news. This kind of reasonable approach, which I came away believing is the product of a sincere desire to work in a bipartisan fashion to find solutions to problems, has put him in the Tea Party crosshairs. He is being challenged in the Republican primary by a self-identified Tea Party candidate whose radio ads say "Bob Inglis has sold out South Carolina conservatives" because of such things as "pushing the global warming myth," and whose web site posted the following question: "Do you want a Congressman or woman who will really speak out against the pro-socialist, anti-American regime that has captured our government?"
In a less polarized time, a Republican like Bob Inglis could have worked with the majority Democrats to forge a better health care bill. In times like these, however, he had to adhere to the party line, and has to guard his right flank against people who use this kind of intemperate, irresponsible rhetoric.