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Now is the time for national campaign on civics

Listen Up

Andy Brack Sep 12, 2018 4:00 AM

Americans — liberal, conservative, and in-between — need to be reminded of what it means to be American.

For role models, they don't need to look to just about anyone in Washington or state capitals like Columbia.

All that seems to be coming from Washington is nonsense that spans from a presidential administration in constant crisis mode to a Congress that ping-pongs from outrage to shock to digging in their heels about things petty and consequential. And then there are the tell-all books and anonymous opinion columns that shine spotlights on all of the dysfunction.

In Columbia, there's not nearly as bad of a mess, but a never-ending Statehouse corruption probe is putting the Energizer bunny to shame. On top of everything else, it's again time to strap in for a sure-to-come menu of nasty political ads ahead of the November election.

Yuck.

We live in an age of impersonal bluster by electronic device. On the rise are communications that too often are boastful, disrespectful, scurrilous, haughty, and malevolent. It's as if what has become important is simply scoring a point for the current media cycle and salivating about what to do to win the next one.

This is not the kind of behavior that made America great. As Americans, we have long stood up for what's right. We honored, died, and acted upon values that fueled the Greatest Generation to defeat Nazism. We fought for a strong democratic system and institutions buttressed by the values of common good, the rule of law, hope, opportunity for all, and a host of freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Unfortunately these days, the United States, long the shining vanguard of democracy that set the example for other countries, has become a creepy old uncle that other nations shy away from, too timid now to embrace. If it were not for America's huge market for goods, longstanding allies would have jumped ship months ago, all thanks to the escalating rancor of Washington, D.C., that is trickling down to the grassroots of America.

But America is still better than the face it now shows the world. It's time to return to our true roots of freedom and remember seemingly hidden values that millions still hold dear.

Our history suggests a path. Twenty-six presidential elections ago, Woodrow Wilson won re-election after campaigning against America entering World War I. But soon after he won in 1916, he realized America had a duty to participate. So he embarked on an all-out campaign to persuade Americans of the justness of the war's cause. It worked.

Now, 101 years later, it is past time for editorials on the need for more civics education. Now is the time for real action, using all of the traditional and social media techniques never dreamed of by Wilson and his publicity machine. Now is the time for a bipartisan collaborative of corporate and civic leaders to fund a broad and deep effort to remind Americans about the times when our country's leaders treated each other as people, not symbols and hashtags. Now is the time for a $50 million multimedia campaign to reteach common values of civics to Americans from sea to shining sea.

This group of principled leaders needs to use their deep pockets to fuel six months of infomercials and social media in early 2019 to restore people's faith in democracy. They should showcase how democracy depends on freedom of the press and how it is not the enemy. They need to stress how investing in the common good strengthens all of us, not just the 1 percent. They need to highlight the strength of democratic institutions and the rule of law in protecting the weak from the strong. They need to describe the sanctity of the freedom to worship and, as Franklin Roosevelt once said, how Americans value being free from fear.

Now is the time to invest in our future by retelling the story of America and her democracy. Only by loudly and broadly proclaiming what we have stood for will Americans today be able to really listen to political candidates. So let's share our neighborliness and decency in a broad-based campaign focusing on civics and values, not continue the surliness rooted in fake Americanisms.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report. Have a comment? Send to: feedback@statehousereport.com.