Lessons in Civility
In the wake of the recent Tucson shooting tragedy, the University of Arizona has decided to create a National Institute for Civil Discourse. Former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton will serve as honorary chairmen for the center, which aims to study and promote a more measured and reasoned political debate.
Good luck with that one. By its very nature, politics is highly charged and extremely partisan--and it's been that way throughout our history. Think the current generation of TV attack ads is tough? How about LBJ's legendary "Daisy" spot, suggesting that Barry Goldwater wanted to unleash nuclear war on the planet. BTW, one of the architects of that ad was none other than Bill Moyers, the same guy who decries the "excesses" of right-wing talk radio.
Here are few more blasts from our (supposedly) more "civil" political past. The 1894 Republican Presidential nominee James G. Blaine was referred to as the "Continental Liar from the State of Maine." His Democratic opponent, Grover Cleveland, was tarred by accusations he fathered an illegitimate child. "Ma, ma, where's Pa?" Republicans countered, "Running for the White House, Ha, ha, ha." It was changed to "Gone to the White House" after Cleveland won. Ahh..civility.
Truth be told, the new institute won't do much to change public debate, but it will become a home for ex-politicians and more than a few PhDs in political science. Together, they can compile reports that no one will read and host seminars that fill up a few hours on C-SPAN.
Still, if the folks at U of A are serious about alerting the tone of our political debate, they might assemble a "mobile training team" for groups that really need help with civility and old-fashioned manners.
We refer specifically to the student body at Columbia University. During a recent debate on bringing ROTC back on campus, they heckled and booed a decorated Iraq war veteran who spoke on behalf of the military training program. He was shot eleven times in a firefight in Mosul and spent two years at Walter Reed recovering from his wounds. But to the enlightened students at Columbia, he was nothing more than a war-monger, unworthy of their respect--or attention.
In an editorial supporting the re-introduction of ROTC, the Columbia student newspaper hoped that the university's influence would help change the military. Based on the behavior we saw at that debate, we'd say Columbia is the institution in need of change--and a lesson in civility.