Introduction: by Ed Goeas
Throughout the three months of the fellowship at Georgetown, I was allowed to invite three outside guests to participate in one of the week’s group discussions. In my fellowship on civility in politics, I asked three people I had come to highly respect during the forty-plus years I had worked on political campaigns. First was Ed Rollins, who I had been close friends with back when he was the political director at the White House for Ronald Reagan, and I was the political director at the Republican National Congressional Committee. I wanted Rollins to share the story with the students about the final weeks of Reagan’s re-election campaign in 1984, where he was the campaign manager. Rollins was trying to get President Reagan to go into Minnesota in the campaign’s final days on the premise that Reagan would win the state if he did. Reagan’s response: “It’s Mondale’s home state. Let him win it!”
And that is precisely what happened: Walter Mondale won Minnesota, with Reagan winning the other forty-nine states. I always saw that as a genuine act of civility, one that I doubt we would see in today’s political environment and one that led to a very fascinating and positive discussion with the students. A discussion about showing respect for your political opponent and the fact that the 1984 campaign was the last presidential campaign void of negative political commercials on the airwaves.
Bringing Us Together in a Deeply Divided Nation
The third person I brought in for the last discussion group was Tom Ridge, ex-congressman, ex-governor of Pennsylvania, and the first secretary of Homeland Security. The governor had never been one of my polling clients, but I had known Tom Ridge from his first term in Congress and had always believed him to be one of the good guys who were there to make a difference, not cause trouble. I wanted him to talk with the students about Donald Trump. This discussion group was held ten days after the 2018 November Election, and we had just lost control of the US House of Representatives. There was a lot of post-election finger-pointing on the Republican side and vitriol on the Democratic side throughout Washington and the media. There were a lot of emotional comments about President Trump, and I wanted the students to see what the governor had to say. He made it clear that he would not defend the often-uncivil style Trump had become known for, but he said he “wished the best success for the president because if the president was successful, the country was successful.”
I wanted the students to see what a true patriot was like. Tom Ridge had seen war in Vietnam, and he had put together a vast government agency to fight the war on terrorism. He knew when to fight and when to unite, and he was undoubtedly the perfect ending to our three-month discussion about civility.
As my fellowship ended, I must say, it was not the speakers but the students who inspired me to write this book. I found Georgetown University students somewhat different from many of the other students I have met while speaking on various campuses over the years. They were deeply committed to listening to different views with respect. I fed off the call for more from the five students assigned to me as a Student Strategy Team, whose assignment was to help facilitate the discussion groups. I saw in those students hope that we, as a nation, could pull out of this death spiral of incivility and realized the youth may very well be the key to building a better, more civil America.
I had also concluded, however, that the place for such a book would only come when Donald Trump was no longer president. I had always been outspoken about how I felt about his brash, tasteless style. I could never feel comfortable with the often stated, “I don’t like his style, but I do like his policies.” Not with two young sons at home who I was trying to teach to be everything Trump was not.
The bottom line was, I did not want the book to be Trump-centric, and I saw Trump as a symptom of where our country had devolved in our uncivil behaviors and not the actual disease. So when November came and Trump lost the presidency, I thought again about writing a book, but this time, with a slightly different idea—bring in Celinda Lake as a co-author. In 2019, we moved the Battleground Poll to Georgetown University and added a section about civility. It became the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll, but through 2019 and the election of 2020, the civility questions and analyses seemed to pique the reporters’ interest in stories. Celinda and I agreed it was time to write and decided the book should not be Trump-centric.
Not be Trump-centric? That’s been the most challenging part about writing this book and one that only you, the reader, can pass final judgment on. It was difficult not to join the chorus as I watched my party lose two Senate seats in Georgia and control of the United States Senate because all President Trump wanted to talk about was voter fraud and how voters’ votes did not count, dampening Republican voter turnout in the Georgia runoff special election. It was hard to watch Donald Trump continue to trash Vice President Mike Pence, a man I had come to respect through the years, long before he was vice president, for not overturning the election with actions every intelligent legal mind in the country believed to be unconstitutional. It’s been tough not to weave in the concern that over sixty percent of Republicans, nearly a quarter of the American electorate, believe Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that the election was stolen. It’s been hard not to be Trump-centric when he is so egocentric!
By Christmas of 2020, we had an agreement to write the book and do a Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service Battleground Poll the first week of January. Yes, we were in the field the week of January 6, with half the survey conducted before the events of that day and half conducted after. The data we received was beneficial in seeing the shifts in voter attitudes about civility because of the events of January 6.
Again, over the last year, part of me has often questioned writing this book, especially under the long, dark shadow cast by the events of January 6. I’ve had to deal with deeply held personal feelings. On 9/11 and January 6, my wife Lisa was there in the Senate office buildings, potentially in danger, as terrorists attacked our country—on 9/11, foreign terrorists, and on January 6, domestic terrorists. However, I keep coming back to the hope and inspiration I found in the students at Georgetown, the hope I see in my children, and the hope I see in my wife, working hard every day with her senator, Joni Ernst of Iowa, to try to make a positive difference in people’s lives.
Over the last year, I realized something else working closely with Celinda to write this book. We were not writing a book on civility; we were writing about respect. Civility is how we language our communication. Respect is the essential core that informs how we interact with one another in all areas of life. Without respect, on a political or personal level, there is no possibility of coming together in meaningful, positive, healing ways—which we and the country desperately need. With that understanding, the demands for a public discussion about civility and respect seemed that much more significant, and the long dark shadows of January 6 seemed to be in retreat. Still, we are far from out of the woods. That’s why I wrote this book with Celinda—crossing aisles and ideologies while agreeing about what needs to be done but often disagreeing on the practical solutions. We intend to model what’s possible, even when people disagree.
I hope that what you are about to read will make a difference. Thank you for taking this journey with us.
High Praise For
‘A Question Of Respect’ And Its Authors...
INTEGRITY & PRINCIPLE
“Bringing Us Together in a Deeply Divided Nation” is a herculean task—massive in scope and in its expectation, yet fundamental to the survival of our democracy. Who better to address this threat than the team of Celinda Lake, a woman of intelligence and integrity and Ed Goeas, a man of principle and purpose?”
Valerie Biden Owens,
Author, Growing Up Biden Ed & Celinda: The Ideal People to Explain
ED & CELINDA: THE IDEAL PEOPLE TO EXPLAIN
“...despite their political differences, Ed Goeas and Celinda Lake are the ideal two people to explain not only how
we got into this mess, but how we can get out of it.”
Former Chair, Democratic National Committee
“...In their provocative new book... they dissect what has made many American voters so cynical....”
Washington Bureau Chief USA Today
“In this remarkable book, A Question of Respect, Republic-based Ed Goeas and Democrat-based
Celinda Lake, ... diagnose our current civic ailments—and prescribe cures.”
George F. Will
Author and Columnist for The Washington Post
“This powerfully optimistic, aspirational book will provoke readers... to a realistic reflection on how we got to
and how we can walk back from the political abyss currently plaguing all communities.”
American Political Consultant