Change the tone of discourse

If the business community can talk politics in a civilized way, maybe politicians will

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

As Election Day nears, one needn’t look at Congress to see how politically polarized our nation has become. Our own business community offers a closer example.

You see and hear it often: pleasant conversations deteriorate into civil war once a candidate’s name is brought up.

And it’s not the healthy political discourse that has been fundamental to our nation’s history and democracy. No, it has gone beyond that.

By now, many of us have seen what happens when politics enters the discussion at industry group, trade association and other business events. Gatherings originally designed to bring a business community together pose convenient opportunities to divide.

Business organizations have long been political, of course. They endorse, lobby and contribute money to help advance their agenda. That’s the way the system works, and I get it.

But in recent times, and perhaps fueled by a stressful recession that has lingered too long, the tone of political dialogue — fed by emotion-arousing TV ads — has descended to a level that has a number of locals wondering how we can return to the real world of negotiation and compromise and if some tarnished relationships can ever be repaired.

Take, for example, a conversation I joined recently at an industry association luncheon. A respected local businessman was holding court and sounded pleasant enough when I sat down at his table. But when the presidential election came up, he went off in rather extreme terms as to how he’d react if a certain candidate were to be elected. His volume and tone changed dramatically, creating a cold and awkward atmosphere and quashing any further comment at the table.

If only that were an isolated incident. But there are many similar stories of this election year, far too many to itemize.

As we study the political gridlock in Washington that seems childish yet dangerous, we know what has to happen: Our leaders need to wise up and start working together.

American politicians seem to listen to the business community more closely than they do other constituency. So perhaps we ought to lead by example – after the wounds have healed.