Robert Meyer
Recent calls for civility are only rhetorical
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By Robert Meyer
February 8, 2011

This column is about old news, and has been overshadowed in the news cycle because of the recent upheaval in the Middle east. Yet this issue is one that will be a prominent issue over the next two years, so it still requires discussion

In the wake of the recent shooting incident in Tucson Arizona, there has been a renewed call for greater civility among competing political factions.

But, though the calls for the new détente may be in some instances well-meaning, they are rooted in a profoundly flawed premise: That this event was motivated by an individual disenchanted by the political process, and also that the same individual was likely influenced by certain media disseminating a conservative perspective. Discovering that the culprit in this crime was largely apolitical and had no known intentional exposure to the political media, had little effect on preventing knee-jerk shooting from the hip from some people who should have been more prudent.

Unfortunately, this sort of innuendo is not without a historical pattern. As recently as last year, the would-be bomber in Times Square, was profiled as a likely subject disgruntled by the recent passage of the Health Care bill. We know how that prophesy turned out. Who can forget that for several months preceding last fall's election, there was a national narrative inexcusably mischaracterizing the Tea Party.

During the past administration, the current Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton expressed the definitive manifesto on political dissent saying that, "I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration somehow you're not patriotic. We should stand up and say, we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration."

Apparently, what is sauce for the goose is no longer sauce for the gander. In fact, it is nothing short of amazing how quickly dissent was converted from a heroic activity, to the object of relentless vilification.

At present, disagreement with the current administration, is too often deemed to be evidence of latent racism or some other form of reprehensible prejudice. Such innuendo lends itself toward a climate of incivility by discrediting opposing perspectives without reservation. It is always the fallback position when no counter arguments can be mustered against certain positions.

We have seen some peculiar behaviors from the liberal side of the political spectrum.

I can't help thinking something odd is going on when people as diverse as a local sheriff and a famous syndicated columnist blame people such as Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin for the Arizona tragedy. Sometimes columnists write wacky things, but I can't recall the last time a local peace officer waxed so politically partisan in his analysis of a horrendous crime. And we had these same sort of irresponsible associations being made in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing back in 1995.

The oddity continues when we observe the festive atmosphere at the recent Tucson memorial commemoration, that at times resembled a pep rally for the Super bowl champion Green Bay Packers, rather than a solemn event honoring the fallen and wounded victims of the shooting.

Such a partisan circus is not without precedent. We must recall the memorial service for Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died in a tragic airplane crash shortly before the 2002 elections. Not only did some the activities mirror a cheerleading competition, but it was shameful to recall the cold reception that a conservative contingent received when they came to pay their respects. How can we argue that such boorish behavior doesn't lend itself to the climate of incivility?

This year, at the president's State of the Union address, the suggestion was made to have representatives from both parties sit next to each other rather then occupying opposite sides of the gallery. It seems like a wonderful act of congeniality, but one still wonders why the idea was never promoted until the Republican Party won a majority of seats in the House of representatives? Again, the insulting implication seems to be that since the country has taken a conservative tilt, now it's suddenly time for them to make nice. Conservativism is thought be nasty by it's very nature. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Civility can only take place where there is a foundation of respect to begin with. There clearly is not.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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