Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Allegheny idea: Why can't our leaders disagree without being disagreeable?

My Alma Mater!

From Harvard came the Marshall Plan, from the University of Michigan Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society. John F. Kennedy gave his space-race speech at Rice and his world-peace speech at American University. Winston Churchill delivered his "Iron Curtain" speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo. Years from now, if we are lucky, we may recall that the big idea of the early 21st century came from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pa.

Like the others -- the ideas that social justice and peace are good and that the threat of Soviet expansion and war are bad -- the Allegheny idea isn't really new, just a plain-sense notion plainly expressed.

Allegheny is a tiny college, fiercely proud of its devotion to teaching and admirably willing to boast of students whose interests are "wonderfully weird" -- you'll find those exact words on its website. Wonderfully weird, perhaps, but the Allegheny alumni I know also are wonderfully intelligent and sensible, so it is no surprise that the Allegheny idea is simple: "Nastiness, Name-calling and Negativity" (the title of the college's ground-breaking new report) are bad, and civility and compromise are good.

The report emerges from a Zogby International poll of the nation that shows the better angels of America's nature at work among the public if not among its politicians. The poll shows that 95 percent of Americans want civility in politics; 87 percent want political disagreement to be respectful; 70 percent want compromise, even on the most divisive issues.

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