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The Problem with the Civility Movement

Three reasons why the push for civility in politics ultimately fails in its objective to improve the tone of political speech. (And don't miss "The white truck was oppressive," at the Tatler and Ed Driscoll's "The era of new civility is over.")

by
Adam Graham

Bio

February 17, 2011 - 12:00 am
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Civility is a virtue in individuals, but the political movement is a distraction from the issues of the day. The civility movement has three major problems:

1. It brings out the worst in people.

It seems contradictory that efforts to get people to behave better would make our political climate more caustic. However, no civility summit begins with a confessional moment where the panelists own up to their own misdoings. It’s always pointing a self-righteous finger at others.

The aftermath of the Rally to Restore Sanity put on by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is instructive as to how these efforts work, even when lavished with media attention.

Civility guru Stewart defends the tone of his own show by ignoring surveys that indicate people take his show seriously. Stewart further states that “coarseness” in our political environment is not a problem, only overwrought comparisons of political opponents to Nazis, Communists, etc. This is intended to let himself off the hook for his profanity-filled personal attacks.

At Stewart’s big rally, he called out both MSNBC and Fox for what he believes to be overheated rhetoric. Rachel Maddow took issue with Stewart’s rally for alleging equivalence between Fox News and MSNBC. Ditto for Keith Olbermann.

Did the Rally to Restore Sanity make us behave better? Did it create a more positive tone in our political discourse? Or did it merely re-enforce a belief among the participants and the left that the tone of American politics is somebody else’s fault?

2. The civility movement  is political correctness by another name.

Sarah Palin’s use of targets for congressional seats has become controversial in the aftermath of the Tucson rampage. CNN issued an “apology” for the use of a crosshairs analogy. Both of these incidents show the posturing over civility is nothing more than political correctness in disguise.

Like political correctness, the civility movement seeks to protect us by limiting what we can say in polite society. They seek to be the umpires who can declare what rhetoric is overwrought, dangerous, and unacceptable, and what rhetoric is in bounds.

Most of the people trying to play this rhetoric-control game are on the left, so we end up with a series of double standards in the ever-changing political strike zone. According to them, it is wrong for Sarah Palin to say that ObamaCare will lead to rationing and the government deciding who will live and who will die. Yet it is fine for Democrats to tell senior citizens the Republicans want to take away their Social Security. In reality, Democrats are dodging legitimate concerns that Obamacare will require rationing while every Social Security reform proposal begins with meeting obligations to current recipients.

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