Do we sometimes, perhaps subliminally, think that because someone disagrees with us that they are less intelligent? How civil is political debate in Utah? Why does it seem that incivility is more attractive and entertaining? Is a little incivility okay every now and then? If you had to choose between being civil and being honest, which would you choose?
These and similar questions were discussed last night at the quarterly blogger briefing entitled "CIVILITY IN POLITICS: WHERE DO WE DRAW THE LINE?", hosted by the Sutherland Institute in Salt Lake City.
Dave Hansen, chair of the Utah State Republican Party, noted that there have been several times in American history where political debate has been much less civil than it is today. The 1968 presidential election at the height of the Vietnam War was one such high-water mark. Early campaigns in our nations history, such as those between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, were fraught with name calling and half truths that might make today's politicians blush. Also on the early side of our nation's history, at least one instance has been chronicled of a United States congressman nearly succeeding in killing a colleague on the floor of congress; has that happened recently?
Hansen's point was that political debate only seems to be more rancorous today because of the immediacy of cable news and the internet. Back in the day when there were only a few newspapers to accompany Walter Cronkite and the CBS evening news, it was not possible (as it is today) for Americans to get all of the salacious details of any political event they wanted to know more about.
Rob Miller, chair of the Davis County Democrat Party, opined that Representative Joe Wilson's recent outburst during President Obama's speech--"You lie!"--is not only completely lacking in decorum, but is an outburst without precedent. I completely agree with the statement that it was a disgraceful outburst, but Dave Hansen wondered if we simply don't know about any other such outbursts (1) because, until recently, presidents very seldom gave speeches in front of Congress, and perhaps more importantly (2) the almost immediate accessibility of virtually any news story is an advent of only about the last 10 years or so.
It reminds me of the recent "Obama Worship Song" that was videotaped and clandestinely uploaded to the internet. Did any such Reagan worship (for example) ever occur? The world may never know.
Is it more important to be civil or honest? There seemed to be nearly as many answers to this question as there were people in attendance at last night's briefing. In my opinion, it's important to be "civilly honest" (hopefully that doesn't sound like a copy-out). Only then can you be persuasive. If you're civil, but not honest, then eventually no one will believe you. If you are honest, but not civil, then eventually no one will listen to you.
Why does incivility seem to be more attractive than civility? No one at the blogger briefing had a really good answer to that question...
So what's your experience? Is incivility up in the Utah political area? Is Utah politics more or less civil than other places you've been.
Note: Jeff Reynolds and Lisa Johnson of the Sutherland Institute indicated that the next briefing would take place in December. For more information, or to attend, please contact Lisa.