Our View: Dialogue, not ideologues, the way forward - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Our View: Dialogue, not ideologues, the way forward

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Posted: Sunday, September 4, 2011 4:00 am

The questions, accusations and characterizations were pretty direct.

John McCain stood before an angry and frustrated crowd of mostly tea party activists at the Gilbert Municipal Center and got an earful.

They demanded an apology from Arizona's longtime Republican senator, claimed he was "out of touch," bemoaned his "negativity" and wanted to know "where's our fence?" At times, the town hall meeting degenerated into a shouting match and caused town officials to hurriedly bring in armed police officers as McCain called for a "modicum of courtesy."

That was on Aug. 8.

The next day, McCain ventured to Tucson for another town hall meeting. If a base of fellow Republicans in Gilbert had taken him to task, imagine what was in store in a more left-leaning city like Tucson? This one was more civil, but not by much. McCain was greeted with catcalls and constant interruptions from a crowd of more than 150 residents. McCain again had to call for "common courtesy" and implored the crowd to "act like grown-ups here."

During this summer's Congressional recess, the 75-year-old McCain followed those meetings up with a town hall in Goodyear, another trip to Tucson and one to Yuma.

Through it all, McCain maintained his composure and tried to keep the conversations civil. In today's political climate, that's not easy. Politics has become so polarized and extreme that's it's tough to appeal even to members of your own party, particularly for a more moderate politician.

But McCain has always believed in town hall meetings - they were a staple during his campaign for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination - as a way to connect with his constituents.

Unfortunately, that ideology is becoming more "maverick" these days.

Consider one of Arizona's freshman representatives, Republican Ben Quayle. His only appearances this summer were for an Arizona Republican Lawyers Association luncheon in Phoenix that cost $35 per person, and a breakfast in Scottsdale that was $50 a plate.

Quayle is not alone in this "pay-per-view" approach that makes it easy to avoid the rhetoric and vitriol of the masses. And in the aftermath of the shooting that severely wounded Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a meet-and-greet event in January, it's hard to blame politicians.

But is that really what this nation has come to? Hiding behind pay-per-view walls and avoiding the very people you should be serving?

"I think (the town hall meeting) is one of the fundamentals of our government process, our democratic process - meeting with people and responding to them," McCain told the Associated Press.

While McCain said he understood the desire to avoid the "despicable" people who disrupt town halls, he said the decision to avoid them lets "those bad people win."

Our country is at a crossroads. Now that we have a Democrat president, Republicans have suddenly woken up and discovered that government has been spending way too much money. Democrats bemoan the fact that corporate America should be paying more taxes to reduce our out-of-control debt. The tea party movement has taken hold and galvanized both sides even further.

Somewhere in the middle of all that lies some common sense. And only through civil public dialogue - and less ideologues - will we be able to find it.

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