Benghazi Hearings Take Incivility to New Heights

The roots of my political education are three. Those of you who read my first article on “The Energy of Civility” know the first two were my grandfathers: one a business owner and Republican, the other a labor union leader and Democrat. I sat, literally, at their feet in my formative years, listening to their arguments. I had an insatiable curiosity about how things worked, and politics was like breathing for these two men. They clearly demonstrated how two intelligent men could agree to disagree—sometimes. The third exposure to politics was odd for a young girl, and had a lot to do with my awareness of civility, energy and the heart as I grew. Eventually I chose to write about these issues.

In April of 1954, I was twelve and suffering with asthma. I was home in bed and my mother, willing to do anything to keep me distracted, gave in to my desire to watch television. In our house, this was rare. Usually I devoured books in this forced quiet time. On our three station TV, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy was deep into the witch hunt focused on finding Communists in the Army that began in 1950 during the Truman administration. Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, was elected president in 1952. There were many Republicans who regretted handing McCarthy the opportunity to hold televised hearings, but it was too late. (Does this sound familiar? It seems there are many in Congress—and elsewhere—regretting the publicly televised Benghazi hearings.) But there they were, right in front of my twelve-year-old eyes. Everything my parents and grandparents and the nuns at school had taught me about civility and courtesy was absent in Senator McCarthy’s fevered behavior.

I learned to fear this man who attacked people of great stature by interrupting constantly and angrily. He never listened to the answers to his questions, and bullied anyone who dared to disagree with him. At one point, the Army’s chief counsel, Joseph Welch, reacted to McCarthy’s slander of an associate: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” The audience overflowing the room rose to their feet, clapping and cheering. Well, for me, this was better than any soap opera I’d seen or nearly every book I’d read. The bad guy got blown out of the water with WORDS! The guy on the white horse won. Lack of civility had been seen as inappropriate, and even evil. I was firmly hooked on politics and the power of words.

Years later I watched the Watergate Hearings and Iran Contra. I was disappointed in the level of intelligence, but most of the players knew how to speak politely when necessary and some on both sides backed off when faced with facts. As I now write about connections and energy, I listen to everything with an awareness of the energy exchange. Since my certification as a HeartMath® Trainer, I see every interaction as an exchange of energy, whether between individuals or groups. Hostile energy creates hostile feelings and the opposite is true.

Thursday, I had another opportunity to witness democracy in action—the Benghazi investigation. I determined to watch, trying to ignore the arrogance I had seen in television interviews or the claims—by another McCarthy—that this had always been a political attempt to “get” Hillary Clinton. I tuned in to the entire event, and it was exhausting. I can’t imagine what it was like for those in the room. It was as if a great sucking energy pulled any opportunity for civility right through the roof. The Benghazi hearings had managed to redefine political incivility – within just one afternoon.

After previously testifying several times to different committees, Hillary Clinton faced eleven hours in a room charged with negative energy. At the end, a reporter asked a question of Republican Chairman Ted Gowdy who ran the hearings. “What were the most important new things he had learned?” His reply was: “Uhhh. When you say new today—I mean, we knew some of that already. In terms of her testimony? I don’t know that she testified that much differently today than she has the previous times she’s testified.”

I felt like I had just watched a play and the director was disappointed that there had been no big “Perry Mason” moment where the witness, after hours of badgering, stands up and cries: “Okay, okay! You got me!” Those who disagree with Secretary Clinton, her politics or her family name will not change their minds after this spectacle, but some of her opponents realized how strong she is. A softer, more feminine Margaret Thatcher came to mind. She is certainly, to some Democrats, a more hawkish leader than they want. Her most effective times were when she showed her empathy for the victims and their families. If you didn’t watch, and only hear sound bites from media you agree with, you’re missing out on history. The Republicans of this era may regret their choice to allow this televised hearing as much as their predecessors did in the 1950s.

What I did see was a woman who could be president—sharp, intelligent, patient, informed, analytical and able to hold her own, even when being berated. I could see her at the negotiating table with any world leader. I could see a president who wouldn’t embarrass us with a lack of understanding of the complex issues facing the world. And I saw a woman who breathed, gathered herself and looked in the eyes of her critics with an energy that belied her age and the brutal schedule she follows. To put it plainly, I was impressed and heartened by the possibility of her hand on the tiller of the ship of state—especially given our other choices.

After the horrors of Beirut and Tehran, most Democrats and Republicans came together to find what could be done to make sure these awful things never happened again. We had some statesmen in the Congress who broadcast energies of cooperation and urgency. They talked, shared their concerns, and acted. In recent years, Congress cut the budget for the State Department and Security. Secretary Clinton was careful not to engage by mentioning the fact that her accusers were culpable. When she closed by asking that we return to a time when civility was at least possible in politics, I felt a small energetic thrill of hope. I believe in possibility, but nothing positive will happen as long as “gotcha” is the operating system. I ask that we all send energy and prayer to our leaders and those who work in government. God knows we’re going to need both going forward.

By Author Therèse Tappouni
Facebook Pages: Therese Tappouni and The Gifts of Grief