Monday, January 17, 2011

Civil Savvy - I Have a Dream!

It is Martin Luther King Day, so pardon my post title, but I think MLK would approve.  To make progress in this great nation of ours will require a dose of respect for civil forms of discourse, not to mention a little respect offered one-another just on the premise that we - and our ideas - all need to be treated with a bit more dignity.  We are all Americans, and we are arguing over the shape of our nation.  We all live here and lay a legitimate claim, and as such, our multiplicity of ideas should be heard out with an open mind.

I'm still not clear how this backslide into mud-slinging became our primary political dialect, but this is as good a time as any to turn this ship around.
Joe Markowitz

A facebook friend of mine, Joe Markowitz, wrote an excellent post today on Civility, and I urge you to read its entirety.  Joe starts by mentioning Speaker John Boehner's accusation that the Obama administration is on a "job destroying spending spree."   He then deconstructs the impact of Boehner's word choice, and offers some alternatives.

Another of my facebook friends, Doug Chandler, was prompted by Joe's post to note that Boehner's words didn't seem all that bad to him (my paraphrase).  I get it, Doug, given the miles between a phrase like "job destroying spending spree," and some of the more vitriolic hate speech that's come under scrutiny in the wake of the shootings of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and some of her staff and constituents in Tucson a week ago last Saturday. 

While I see Doug's point, I think Joe's point is too important to miss.  Boehner's language didn't go over the edge, but neither did it "invite" civility. As I understand Joe's comments, fruitful discourse requires civility on both sides of the discussion - not to mention, wouldn't we really rather be a civil society?   Joe's article is beautiful because it demonstrates just how easy it would be to produce a very civil, possibly even productive, conversation - if each side wanted to.

And there's the rub.  I worry that the real story - beneath the rhetoric - is that neither party wants a civil discourse.  I worry that each party has become so wedded to its own beliefs and its supporting rhetoric that delivering anything less than a ideologically perfect solution to any policy issue would be tantamount to party betrayal. 

We've managed to ideologize ourselves into three factions - the My-Way-Or-The-Highway Right, the Oh-Crap-The-Right-Is-Beating-Us-Up-Again-Left, and the Will-You-Both-PLEASE-Just-Shut-Up-Disgusted-Middle.  Until we can get civil again, we will have a hard time bringing that Disgusted Middle back into the discussion, and policy will be mostly stuck in this mire we've created.

I like Joe's post.  It's so important because it demonstrates just how dawg-on simple civil debate can be.  It strips away all excuses for civility between grown people.  Here is my favorite few words:
"...[R]estoring civility does not mean that we are going to end disagreement or debate. Nobody should expect anybody else to abandon any deeply-held political positions, or to let go of their passions..."

Joe then goes on to offer some much-needed "how to" advice.   I hope you'll click this sentence and Scotty will beam you right through to Joe's thoughtful little post.

Before I exit, I want to take a moment to applaud Senators Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), who've announced that they plan to break tradition and sit together during President Obama's State of the Union address January 25th.  It's a very civil - and savvy - move!

Illustration borrowed from Joe, who borrowed it from another blogger, who no doubt borrowed it from another blogger.  We're all getting loose about attribution.  Wish there was an easy way to know the origins of any particular photo found on the web.  Unless they're locked or otherwise say not to use them, it's pretty freewheeling out here in cyberspace...

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