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Is Civility the answer?

Published: 2010-10-07 13:17:00
Category: politics Tags: civility

It seems that our national political discourse is not civil. That is according to a bunch of former lawmakers who [released an open letter to all candidates for the House of Representatives][]. I am inclined to agree, though I am not sure that "civility" is the core virtue which, if restored, would fix the political process.

We cannot expect much better - partisanship is the logical conclusion of representative democracy. And with the current media enterprise, politics has become the biggest spectator sport in this country. We all love the big rivalries - Yankees v. Redsox; Celtics v. Lakers; Colts v. Patriots. Nobody likes watching the Pitsburgh Pirates play the Washington Nationals. It's just not partisan enough. So you can't really blame the athletes politicians for taunting when they score or talking trash about their opponents after the game. Incivility is fun to watch. Unfortunately for us, the scoring of political points has an impact very much more real than season standings printed on the sports page.

A return to civility in politics would probably reduce its marketability, and that may in turn fix what is stupid about our political system. But I just don't see that happening. There's no positive reinforcement for civility that I can see, at least not as long as for-profit media are the cipher through which we experience politics. The best fix I can imagine to that problem is to atomize politics at the local level. That would make it harder for national media to exploit. Perhaps I'll post some thoughts on that later. Until then, this call to "be nice" has a nice ring to it, but I don't see it having any palpable effect.

[released an open letter to all candidates for the House of Representatives]: http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=74001D00-E7DC-0DCD-0208CE377D4DFECB

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© Nathan D. Smith
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