28 Responses

  1. It just seems kind of pathetic that we have to ask this question. shouldn’t civility be the default option, what we naturally assume? Why anything else?

    • Maybe because incivility just feels better on a lot of levels? It’s a power trip. Primal. Cathartic. Self-centered. And it’s celebrated by a lot of our peers, so there is plenty of positive feedback for it.

      • I think you are mistaking civility with competition in this case. Being civil can equal vanilla, bland, hard to differentiate. Being competitive means you do what it takes to win and come out on top. We are the children of children of people who did everything to survey, be it the Depression or the Big One. Collectively, it is our nature to be less civil and more willing to do what it takes to grab the brass ring.

      • I guess this is the definition I had in mind, from freedictionary.com:

        Not rude; marked by satisfactory (or especially minimal) adherence to social usages and sufficient but not noteworthy consideration for others; “even if he didn’t like them he should have been civil”- W.S. Maugham

  2. Joe’s post is perfectly timed for today’s Strib article about how Pawlenty is fabulously civil in the face of vitriol and shrillness:

    http://www.startribune.com/politics/local/113532389.html?elr=KArksUUUycaEacyU

    We must all admit that Pawlenty was very effective in disarming his opponents by responding calmly and persuasively. I admire that in him.

    • I agree that Pawlenty was much more civil than many, and he used it to his political advantage. Like Reagan, civility made Pawlenty’s conservative policies feel much more palatable to swing voters. Though Pawlenty’s conservative base was craving more red meat potshots from him, he mostly didn’t give in to that temptation…and still held onto his base. He shows that civility can be a political asset.

      P.S. Newt, you do LOVE your Star Tribune, don’t you?

      • His “civility” brings to mind what the character Eddie Haskell would have grown up to be had “Leave It To Beaver” not been cancelled and seen the kids through to adulthood.

      • that was nasty!

    • Newt:

      I definitely agree. his civility was certainly one of the things that set him apart, and i do not think that his civil tone meant that his policies were dramatically different. His tone meant that it was very difficult to caricature him as just another mean spritied conservative, To criticize him meant that you had to engage him on the issues, which was a challenge for some of his critics.I think that it made him far more effective as a leader.

      It is possible (here i am slipping into horse race mode) that he will be helped in his 2012 race by this recent turn of events…

  3. Joe – I often wonder why the Strib – with its new ownership – doesn’t make a pivot to the right. Seems to me that’s where the revenues are – yet they only flirt with conservatism.

    PM – I think we’re acknowledging that Pawlenty has considerable political skill. I still don’t classify him as a conservative.

    P.S. On the other end of the spectrum, I admire John Marty for many of the same traits.

    • Hmmm, I’m not so sure about your theory on the Strib saving itself by moving to rightwing content. In the metro area, the subscribers are disproportionately non-right wingers (i.e. moderate GOPs, Independents and Dems), so I’m not sure a shift to right wing content would hold Strib subscribership. And I don’t think right wing companies are going to advertise with a paper with plummetting subscribership, because at the end of the day they care most about marketing bang for buck, more than they care about ideological catharsis.

      I don’t know the financial ins and outs of newspapers very well, but that’s what I wonder about. Interesting topic. I wonder if the Strib owners have had that conversation.

      • I don’t know how they could continue offending over half the marketplace. Therein lies a business opportunity – probably a competitor’s.

      • Re: Star Tribune “offending over half the marketplace”

        It’s an interesting point, but I’m not sure that’s really what the metro newspaper marketplace looks like. In the last Presidential election, Republicans got a minority in metro counties — 35% in Hennepin, 32% in Ramsey, 46% in Dakota, and 47% in Washington. Moving from center-left to hard right wouldn’t seem to be aligning supply with demand. There is definitely room for niche publications to appeal to the political miniority, but if I were looking to maintain the status of being the primary community newspaper, I don’t think I’d go hard right.

  4. Remember, Tim Pawlenty’s current job is in sales. He is on a book tour, making media appearances, establishing his political brand and creating buzz to improve the national recognition of his name. In sales, success depends on a person’s ability to act civilly and develop rapport with his or her customers.

    (And Pawlenty is doing an admirable job right now as he makes the rounds on the network and cable talk shows. He’s a pro.)

    But the art and science of politics are practiced to support the pursuit of power. Pawlenty is a “candidate, non-candidate” dodging questions about whether he is or not running for the Presidency of the United States. That makes him vanilla right now.

    But in the back of the minds of many might be this question: Minnesota Nice is nice, but is it right for the Oval Office?

    When the pursuit of power becomes more intense later this year, with thoughts turning to 2012, our conversations today about civility will have faded away. Once the bonafide Republican presidential candidates are revealed, the strategies enacted to determine who will get the nomination will pit the candidates against each other. As the competition heats up, civility will be an afterthought, demonstrated only in those platitudinal remarks and handshakes at the end of debates.

    When President Obama looks in the mirror these coming weeks, he will want to see the reflection of Bill Clinton, not Jimmy Carter. His beeline to the center and at times right of center will create a great disappointment in his far-left, progressive ranks. The angst from these folks will generate a lot of acts and words, which cannot be filed away in the folder labeled “civility.”

    When Herman Cain and perhaps Donald Trump are fueling their presidential campaigns with their own mega-bucks, they will not be warmly embraced by the political establishments of both parties. They will be seen as threats and competition for media attention. They will receive the type of civility treatment that people receive when there is no room for them at the table.

    Civility in politics exists only in an imaginary world. Achieving power depends on what length a person is willing to do to achieve it, in light of personal values, societal standards of conduct and the tolerances of voters. The voters, of course, are every politician’s customers.

  5. The Governor of the State of Maine just told the Maine NAACP to “kiss my butt”, so much for a change in tone.

  6. I found this to be a really thoughtful article!

    http://theweek.com/bullpen/column/210990/three-truths-about-tucson

  7. Why civility…this week is exactly why, and I don’t mean AZ, I mean here on this blog.

    Why ‘respectfully disagree’…I can think of two reasons in an instant–
    1) while they are not perfect in their statement, neither will you be in yours. These issues tend to be complicated and your disagreement does not sum up the issue any more than the portion of the other person’s statement reflects their sum of the issue.
    2) therefore, to disrespect your ‘opponent’ immediately diminishes your argument and immediately puts your opponent in a defensive mindset which typically closes their mind to your point of view instead of opening it.

    So I thank you Joe for posting this…BL’s 1st posting and its 170+ flame-throwing misdirections and glancing discussion points wore me out so much I haven’t had the courage/energy to even read BL’s 2nd posting–which brings up a third reason for ‘why civility’–
    3) Flamethrowing might be fun for some, but for the masses you MIGHT be interested in convincing, it is off-putting.

    So, maybe your next posting should be ‘Why Incivility’ so the flamers can explain why they engage in the manner of their choosing.
    –are they scratching for cred with their posse?
    –are they keeping some score of zingers?
    –are you just fanning flames to encourage pageviews?
    –it is because they think this is some game?

    Silly me, I was just trying to improve our community.

    • I agree with the Other Mike and am glad he wrote this post. The tit-for-tat can be tiresome and because I was just introduced exactly one week for tonight, I found myself not interested in reading any further when the comments became just too personal.

      Everyone who wants his or her voice to be heard, and is interested in being part of a larger discussion should know:

      It is quality, not quantity.

      That’s what a larger audience should expect.

    • Other Mike, your multiple choice options are excellent, and I’m occassionally guilty of them all.

      Again, I’m not saying “don’t disagree” or don’t ever venture into rowdyness. I’m talking about disagreeing without being so disagreeable that the bridge gets burned. That still allows us a long leash for our discussions.

      That leash length will obviously be different for different people. I have some people in my life who require a careful tone, and some who can take a much more challenging tone.

      On blogs, we sometimes feeling like there are no limits, like we’re having a discussion with a computerized automated response generator instead of a person. Almost like playing chess with a computer. It’s easier to dehumanize when I know nothing about the other person’s life and am not face to face to get non-verbal feedback.

  8. We’ll know that civility has become important if the house Republicans change the name of their health care repeal bill from A Bill to Repeal the Job Killing Health Reform Act to A Bill to Repeal the Uncivil Health Reform Act. The name will still be as bogus, but the spin point will have changed.

    What’s necessary is to, I believe the vogue word is “deincentivize,” incivility. As long as people can get nominated, elected or increase ratings or make money in the media by behaving like rabid weasels, no amount of tut-tuting is going to stop it.

    Pawlenty’s problem is how to attract the red meat crowd without going over the top, and don’t think he’ll succeed. Of the couple of dozen rumored Republican candidates, probably only Huckabee can be nasty enough to fire up the base without appalling the general public. Pawlenty’s attack on the public employee unions in the WSJ is evidence he’s willing to betray his own record of negotiating and signing labor contracts to appease the base.

    • Fox News is leading the way on civility, according to Saturday Night Live…

      http://widget.nbc.com/videos/nbcshort_at.swf?CXNID=1000004.10045NXC&widID=4727a250e66f9723&clipID=1270084&showID=61&siteurl=http://www.nbc.com?vty=fromWidget_Video&dst=nbc|widget|NBCVideo&__source=nbc|widget|NBCVideo

    • Any ideas about how to deincentivize incivility?

      • Some of it is already happening maybe: talking points memo had up a list of the most violent gun related campaign material–12 Republicans, 1 Democrat–and the good news is that most of candidates lost. I think if big money campaign contributors figure out that giving money to candidates like Sharon Angle who have flamethrowers where their tongues out to be is a losing bet, then they won’t, and that will quiet some of the racket.

        I was also thinking as I was watching medical nostrum ads on t.v. that if they have to qualify their claims and warn about ill effects, why not do the same with political ads? If those 30 second spots had to spend the last 10 seconds having a speed-talker explain that what had gone before was hysterical bullshit with no basis in fact, maybe we would hear less hysterical bullshit with no basis in fact.

        We could also make Brian absolute monarch so he could require the media to fact check routinely in the course of a story.

  9. Bad news for word lovers. The word civility has been kidnapped and is being held hostage by media types, media fanatics and those who paid the top dollars in college to increase their vocabulary.

    The ransom is, until people start being nicer to each other, do a little introspection on their own civil habits, and call upon their elected officials to “knock it off,” the word civility–and various forms thereof–will be stated and repeated frequently until there is a four-syllable overload to the senses (similar to Chinese water torture).

    Because we’re all witnesses to pack journalism, it is highly unlikely that some reporters are going to step away from the mainstream and start referring to “being cordial,” “polite behaviors” or “making nice.”

    If there is not a change soon, the letter “i” will be the most typed letter on a keyboard replacing “e.”

    And imagine, this all started with the despicable acts of Jared Loughner, a man who captured photographs of himself caressing a handgun and posing in his stringed bikini bottoms. Frankly, I don’t know why men who prefer these types of briefs are not more up in arms than the dictionary wonks who want to remind us of something most Americans do naturally everyday.

    If the Tucson shooting story would have had a couple of days to breath, we would not be constantly barraged with “I’ll be civil like this, and you be civil like that.”

    I give Americans a lot of credit to understand when political debates are highly partisan, particularly insightful and downright comedic. They know that with every ounce of media they consume, there is a dash of entertainment. For the majority, they live in a civil world and vote for their candidates not so much for their civility but for their ability to represent and stand up for the issues.

    In sum, red-string bikini briefs for men, extremely rare but it does happen. Civility for Americans and politicians, tightly sewn in the fabrics of our society and culture, but the loose threads of inconsiderate words and actions can and do happen.

    Please set the word civility free!

  10. Madison — A 26-year-old woman was charged Thursday with two felony counts and two misdemeanor counts accusing her of making email threats against Wisconsin Republican lawmakers during the height of the battle over Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill.

    Katherine R. Windels of Cross Plains was named in a criminal complaint filed in Dane County Circuit Court.

    According to the criminal complaint, Windels sent an email threat to state Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) on March 9, the day the Senate passed a measure to sharply curtail collective bargaining for public workers. Later that evening, she sent another email to 15 Republican legislators, including Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), the complaint says.

    The subject of the second email was: “Atten.: Death Threat!!!! Bomb!!!” In that email, she purportedly wrote, “Please put your things in order because you will be killed and your families will also be killed due to your actions in the last 8 weeks.”

    “I hope you have a good time in hell,” she allegedly wrote in the lengthy email that listed scenarios in which the legislators and their families would die, including bombings and by “putting a nice little bullet in your head.”

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