Tag Archives: Leo McGarry

What kind of American do you want to be?

This is not about how you’re going to vote in November. That’s important, of course, and making an informed decision and casting a ballot is something every American should do.

But this is about the choices we make every day, about the kind of Americans we want to be. It’s about the kind of people we want to be. About how we want to treat the other people we share this country with. Because this isn’t your land, or my land. This is our land.

What kind of American do you want to be?So what kind of American do you want to be? Do you want to be an American willing to consider the widely varying viewpoints and beliefs that exist in our country? Or do you want to be an American who shouts down someone who doesn’t see the world exactly as you do, or believe exactly what you do?

Do you want to be the kind of American who respects other people’s faith, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and life choices? Or do you want to be the kind of American who hurls insults or might even take violent steps to show how much you hate them and everything they stand for?

Do you want to be the kind of American who will do what you can to help your neighbors? Or who will grab everything you can for yourself, no matter what it takes or who it hurts?

Consider these two true stories of people who are volunteering by knocking on doors to talk to neighbors about a candidate they support. One of them spoke to someone who said, “I’m voting for the other guy but I appreciate that you’re out here doing this.” The other volunteer — who took her daughter along to teach her about civic engagement — was told by her fellow American, “Get your black ass off my porch.”

Which one of those Americans do you want to be?

What kind of American do you want to be?It’s not even just about politics. Do you want to be the guy at the grocery store who doesn’t rush to the newly opened checkout lane because other people were already waiting? Or do you want to be the guy who pushes everyone aside as if they’re not even there?

I realize that as Americans, we’re going to have our own opinions, as we should. And with those come differences and disagreements. I’m not shy about speaking my mind — and yes, I am sometimes critical of politicians and others whose actions or policies trouble me. Especially if they’re lying, cheating or being hypocritical. I check my facts and I focus on educating people about the truth. I often use humor to make a point and, I admit, sometimes I can be downright snarky. That usually means I’ve been pushed to my limit. But I don’t believe in stooping to the level of lying or hate-speech or attacking someone’s personal choices.

And that, right there, is where I think people too often cross the line. I have no problem with someone disagreeing with our President or anyone else. I do have a problem with blatant disrespect, lies and abusive rhetoric. It’s never okay to threaten violence, even if you’re doing it from behind a computer screen.

The next couple of months are going to be intense. Yes, both sides will fight hard because that’s the reality of modern politics. It would be ideal if every candidate talked about nothing but the issues and specific plans for our country’s future. I’m eager for the debates, where we’ll see which candidate focuses on those points. Sadly, though, for the most part that’s not what tends to get in the news or capture the attention of much of the public.

What kind of American do you want to be?But each and every one of us has the power to change that. In the words of Leo McGarry, we can raise the level of debate in this country. We can work hard to be civil, to be fair, to debate based on facts instead of hyperbole and hysteria. We can have conversations that serve to educate those we disagree with instead of tearing them down. We can have conversations that open our own minds. And we can certainly be kinder to each other, not just in political discourse but in everything we do, every day.

We can either be a country of Americans who treat each other with respect, tolerance and acceptance, or we can be a country of Americans who resort to insults, violence and hate.

What kind of American do you want to be?

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Speaking your mind

A lot of people have been asking me about messaging lately. I don’t mean at work — that’s nothing new. I’m talking about people who want to know how to have conversations with the people in their lives about politics and issues they care about.

Most of these people are Democrats who are frustrated by trying to respond to right-wing talking points. Although I’m not a fan of talking points as a replacement for meaningful communication, they have their place. But talking points should be an appetizer, not a main course.

Speaking your mind

That said, the reality is that we live in a world where talking points are a steady diet for many people — politicians, pundits, reporters and citizens. People swallow these morsels and think it’s the whole truth.

Of course, it’s not.

To be fair, I know many Republicans who want to have meaningful, rational conversations about the issues. I’m dating one of them, and I promise there are others. When you get to have a civilized debate with one, make the most of it.

But when that’s not the case, how can smart, motivated Democrats articulate complex issues in a world of oversimplification? How can they be heard above the din of shouting and nasty rhetoric that is so often hurled at them by people who don’t share their views?

Whether the conversation is over the dinner table, over the phone or on social media, here’s a three-step strategy for personal messaging.

1. Know Your Stuff

Speaking your mind

Many Democrats do this already, but it bears repeating. Be as well-informed as possible — and make sure your knowledge is well-rounded. Don’t just listen to the reporters you agree with and don’t just follow people on Twitter who share your views. Get your news from a variety of sources and know the key facts. For those who are eager to support the President, there’s some excellent information to be found here and here. As credible as those resources are, think for yourself. Read, watch and listen to everything you can. I know it’s time-consuming, but the more you know, the better you can concisely convey your thoughts with confidence. Facts are facts. Yes, people will give you their own set of facts — and be willing to accept that, sometimes, they may have a point. Find out where you went wrong or learn from the experience. But if you’ve done your homework, chances are much higher that you’ll be speaking the truth.

2. Keep Your Cool

A shouting match never ends well. You only succeed in alienating people. In fact, many GOP pundits are starting to turn voters off with their nasty rhetoric. Go ahead and let them. Every day, I try to live by the words of Leo McGarry: “We’re going to raise the level of public debate in this country, and let that be our legacy.” Plus, nothing stops bullies faster than seeing their tactics aren’t upsetting you. Take away their overblown sense of superiority and you’ve already made a powerful point. You don’t have to shout to be heard. Plus, you might actually get them to have a rational conversation. If not, at least you tried.

3. Make It Personal

Find a way to humanize the point you’re making. For example, the President wants to put more teachers, cops and firefighters back to work. Mitt Romney thinks we need fewer teachers, cops and firefighters. Start with facts: The President wants to create jobs, Romney wants to take away jobs. Romney said that by hiring less public sector workers he plans to put more Americans back to work. But he has yet to say how he’d do that. In fact, I have yet to hear him say specifically how he’d create any jobs. After you state the facts, personalize it. Tell the story of your brother the firefighter who lost his job or your friend the teacher who is frustrated by how large her class size has grown, making it nearly impossible to give students the individual attention they need and deserve. If the story is one of your own, so much the better. But even a hypothetical story can underscore your point.

Speaking your mindMaking it personal is key.You start with the facts and then take them out of the abstract and place them squarely in people’s real lives. The mother who can’t take her child to the doctor because they don’t have health insurance. The recent college graduate so buried in student debt that he has to work three jobs to make ends meet and pay off his loan. Think about it: The plight of a multi-millionaire or corporation having to pay higher taxes, or a factory having to install safety equipment because of regulations will never be as compelling as the family who pays their mortgage on time but still can’t afford to stay in their home, or the man who died because his workplace wasn’t safe.

While many Republicans spend their time pointing fingers and hurling insults, let’s stay focused on the messages that matter. Let’s do a better job of communicating than the other guys do. Let’s have conversations every day that help raise the level, that help amplify the President’s accomplishments and clearly outlined proposals for moving this country forward.

Chances are, we can’t outspend the other side. But I am confident we can outsmart them.

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