11.30.2009 0

Is Civility Overrated?

  • On: 12/02/2009 09:55:10
  • In: Conservative Movement
  • By David Bozeman

    Sometime-conservative columnist Kathleen Parker recently wrote that “growing concern about incivility is one of America’s more appealing trends.” Her column, entitled ‘Minding Our Political Manners’ cites the examples of “rowdy town-hall meetings. . . sideshow rants on television [and] the outburst of South Carolina representative Joe Wilson.”

    Whenever the chattering classes start lecturing us about civility, you can bet those boorish conservatives are exercising their Constitutional rights again. Funny how Parker failed to mention Florida congressman Alan Grayson, who says the Republican health care plan is for people to die and who referred to blood dripping from Dick Cheney’s mouth.

    Nonetheless, couldn’t the state of our national discourse use a little softening? Of course it could, but therein lies the banality of the current civility movement. There’s nothing new in that proposition — it’s like arguing with a greeting card.

    Jimmy Carter recently hurled accusations of racism at President Obama’s detractors. Al Gore and others stated that President Bush lied to drum up support for invading Iraq. While conservatives consider both instances rude and uncivil, the right is not overly concerned with the din in the political arena. We just want our turn at the microphone. Hashing out minor grievances such as name-calling and speaking out of turn, while occasionally necessary, does not foster spirited debate, it reduces it to endless my-side-your side nitpicking and detracts from more pressing matters, such as fending off an ever-encroaching bureaucracy and defending national security.

    But you best mind your manners. Parker profiles the Civility Project, a bi-partisan coalition formed by an Atlanta public-relations executive to “promote a grassroots, voluntary effort toward renewed civility.” Those still not motivated might consider the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Inaugural Political Summit, dedicated to ending the political strife in Washington and organized by such capable but uninspiring public figures as Tom Daschle, Howard Baker and Bob Dole. Just the event our perilous times are crying out for!

    In truth, American political life is mostly civil, sometimes nauseatingly so. State of the Union addresses typically overflow with bi-partisan goodwill, however contrived, thus the Joe Wilson outburst stood out. The ever-congenial John McCain chose the moral ‘high road’ in 2008, refusing to highlight Barack Obama’s ties to radicals. Was America better off knowing less and not more about those who helped shape the worldview of its next president?

    Civility warriors might want to talk about an overall electronics-obsessed, de-personalized culture, provided they are not interrupted with always more-pressing cell-phone calls. They might want to revive such out-dated notions as decorum and respect for elders. Streaming insults set off sitcom laugh tracks, and young people, who once yelled ‘Hi, Mom!’ when caught by a TV camera, are today as likely to be heard spewing profanity on music channel reality shows.

    Revive our sagging culture and bear in mind that politics, by nature, is a passionate pursuit. Ordinary people without a voice often get loud when given their moment. So be it. Righteous, often angry, individuals built this country and fought its gravest injustices. In trying times, the bold and decisive may have to kick the pre-programmed, sound bite-spewing Miss Manners Institute graduates off the stage. But we are a good people, and we will forgive each other afterward.

    David Bozeman is a Liberty Features Syndicate writer.

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