‘We Need to Find Our Way Back to Civility,’ Obama Says at National Prayer Breakfast
February 4, 2010 - 10:18 AMPresident Barack Obama preached politics – the importance of "civility" in the public square and finding common ground – at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington on Thursday. He mentioned health care reform several times.
Bemoaning the “erosion of civility in the public square,” Obama said it “sows division and distrust among our citizens; it poisons the well of public opinion; it leaves each side little room to negotiate with the other; it makes politics an all-or-nothing sport, where one side is either always right or always wrong, when in reality, neither side has a monopoly on truth.”
Obama said in those conditions, it’s easy to “lose sight” of hungry children, homeless men, and “families without health care.”
Through faith and prayer, “We need to find our way back to civility,” Obama said, adding that such a move begins with “stepping out of our comfort zones” to bridge divisions.
Obama pointed to conservative pastors who are working to “fix our broken immigration system.” He also singled out evangelical leaders who are rallying their congregations to “protect our planet”; and progressives who talk about responsible fatherhood and healthy marriage initiatives, because they realize that “government can’t solve all of our problems.”
Civility requires people with differing views to “disagree without being disagreeable,” Obama said. “Surely you can question my policies without questioning my faith – or for that matter, my citizenship,” he added, to laughter and applause.
Obama said it’s fine to challenge each other’s ideas, but not okay to challenge each other’s motives. Everyone shares the same dreams at some deep level, Obama said, even if they don’t share the same plans on how to fulfill those dreams.
Once again, Obama invoked health care: “We may disagree about the best way to reform our health care system, but surely we can agree that no one ought to go broke when they get sick in the richest nation on earth.” And while Americans disagree on same-sex marriage, they can agree that it’s “unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are…”
Obama said Americans must find common ground when possible and part ways when necessary – but above all, “let us be guided by our faith and by prayer.” He said prayer not only sustains people in difficult times – “and I assure you, I’m praying a lot lately” –it also “can touch our hearts with humility” and fill people with the spirit of brotherhood, he said.
Obama then his faith-based office, saying he’s turned it around “to find common ground among people of all beliefs – allowing those in the office “to make an impact in a way that’s civil and respectful of difference and focus on what matters most.
“It’s this spirit of civility that we are called to take up when we leave here today,” Obama said. “That’s what I’m praying for.”
Although a return to “civility” may seem impossible at a time when “people are frustrated, when pundits start shouting, and politicians start calling each other names” – Obama said it’s been done in the past.
He pointed to some of “those who came before,” including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who preached love in the face of adversity.
Obama used the words "civil" or "civility" ten times in his speech.