Civility in Political Discourse

The issue of civility in public and political discourse has been getting a lot of attention recently, especially (and unworthily) now that some are blaming physical violence on violent rhetoric. There may or may not be a connection, but it really shouldn’t matter– there is no place for incivility in public discourse, no need for it, and it is always counterproductive. Unless the aim is to infuriate and distract the other party, in which case (obviously) it can be very productive, but then it’s hard to think of it as “discourse.”

Colorado’s Senator Mark Udall recently suggested that a good way to show a bit of civility in Congress might be to mix up the seating for the President’s State of the Union address on January 25th. In theory, members might be able to listen to the President’s report without having to worry so much about when to jump to their feet and applaud (or sit in stony silence) with the other members of their party. Last Sunday the Denver Post ran a pair of articles in point-counterpoint juxtaposition, one supporting the idea of mixed Democrat/Republican seating, the other… also supporting the idea and going a step farther to suggest “boy-girl-Asian-Jew” seating.

The original “point” side supporting Udall’s idea was written by local legend Ed Quillen, who has been a professional journalist for thirty years and is a regular contributor to the Denver Post.

The “counterpoint” side was in the form of “Guest Commentary” from Jon Caldara, right wing AM radio talk-show host and president of the “non partisan” Independence Institute, which calls itself “Freedom’s Front Line” and is at least as non-partisan as Fox News is fair and balanced.

Point-Counterpoint layout of articles is meant to be a display of opinions on opposite sides of an issue, and it is up to the reader to decide which side wins the debate, in accordance with the reader’s own beliefs, biases, or predispositions. You can read both columns here:

Quillen: Mixing up seating a great idea

Caldara: Why not boy-girl-Asian-Jew?

If this was a debate, then Ed Quillen scored a triple victory.

1. Ed stated his case clearly, logically, and persuasively.

2. Jon somehow stated Ed’s case, supporting Udall’s suggestion and going a bit farther to suggest that racial and gender mixing on the floor of the House would be even better.

3. The wise editors of the Post split the articles up for the web, so Jon’s piece isn’t even laid out as a “counterpoint” but instead appears to be a stand-alone essay in support of Udall’s idea.

But wait, you exclaim! Caldara isn’t arguing Quillen’s case at all. He is using satire and sarcasm to ridicule it! His first sentence is “I support Sen. Mark Udall’s impactful proposal to have Republicans and Democrats sit together during the State of the Union.” That’s obviously meant in jest because Caldara couldn’t possibly mean it, and besides, there’s no such word as “impactful.” There’s no better way to refudiate an argument than with clever sarcasm and made-up words.

“God knows what we need now, perhaps more than ever, is a really important symbolic political gesture,” says Caldara. Perhaps he intended it as sarcasm, but coincidentally he wrote it while the Republic Party in Congress was voting to repeal “Obamacare,” which was a “really important symbolic political gesture” if ever there was one.

But more to the point, it is a simple fact that Caldera’s fans, including Teabaggers, Bornagins, and Alaskans, simply do not “get” satire. You can see this in any interview on Colbert or the Daily Show. These people take everything literally. If it’s on Fox News it must be Truth on a Biblical scale. You don’t have to look far for a great example of this.

Last November, well-known humor journal The Onion published a story claiming that Obama had a midnight tantrum and sent a 75,000 word email to everyone in America, “revealing deep frustrations with America’s political culture, his presidency, U.S. citizens, and himself.” Frustrated Obama Sends Nation Rambling 75,000-Word E-Mail

In the blink of an eye, it was posted on Fox Nation which is a “news blog” published by Fox News…. as a factual news story! What’s more, hundreds of Fox Nation readers posted comments on the article accepting the story as fact. A personal favorite was the woman who said “I didn’t get the e-mail, but my friend did….”

The posting was quietly removed from Fox Nation after about 24 hours, which was long enough to get the attention of Keith Olbermann and a number of other on-line media outlets including The Raw Story.

So thanks, Jon, for arguing in favor of Udall’s mixed seating arrangement for the State of the Union, and recognizing the importance of civility in political discourse. If you listen real hard, you might hear a ghostly voice from the Far North whispering “You betcha.”


What do you think? Please enter a comment below.

3 Responses to “Civility in Political Discourse”

  1. k'threeze Says:

    ah, Sten Gazette! Now the Economy will start a robust recovery.

  2. SG Says:

    Hadn’t you heard? It’s already started, and the Republicans claim the credit.

  3. Captain Mimo Says:

    Silly Caldara! Sarcasm is for Dems!

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