Let’s resolve to be more civil in 2014

Published on Monday, 30 December 2013 21:12 - Written by

Here’s a New Year’s resolution we could all make for 2014: Let’s be more civil in our political discourse. We all know 2013 was a particularly bloody political season; from sequestration to fiscal cliffs to battles over the Affordable Care Act, debates devolved this year more than most, it seemed.

“What we’re seeing in the marketplace of ideas today is a disturbing growth of incivility,” writes Ed Feulner (founder of the Heritage Foundation) in the Washington Times. “This breakdown isn’t a failing of either the political left or right exclusively. It spreads from one end of the spectrum to the other. This schoolyard mentality, and the name-calling that inevitably follows, are not the exclusive domain of those who attach intemperate comments to online articles. We hear it from highly educated people who write syndicated columns, publish books, and shout on radio and television talk shows.”

We need civility now more than ever.

“Our nation is divided as hardly ever before between the left and the right,” Feulner writes. “We are at loggerheads on profoundly important political and social questions. Civilization itself is under barbaric attack from without. Sadly, too many of us are not rising to these challenges as a democratic people. Rather than helping to reverse this decline, the rising chorus of incivility is driving out citizens of honest intent and encouraging those who trade in jeering and mockery.”

One of the more recent examples is President Barack Obama’s portrayal of anyone who — citing decades of real history — entertains doubts about Iran’s sincerity at the nuclear negotiating table.

“I’m not surprised that there’s been some talk from some members of Congress about new sanctions,” Obama said. “I think the politics of trying to look tough on Iran are often good when you’re running for office, or if you’re in office.”

See what he’s doing there? He dismisses the notion that any member of Congress (even those in his own party) could have serious doubts about Iran — which has lied to the world repeatedly and flagrantly. Instead, opposition to his administration’s “peace in our time” efforts are just political posturing.

That’s the most common form of incivility we’re seeing today. It’s a form of the ad hominem attack. Your opponent isn’t merely wrong, he’s evil. Such a statement is a diversion from the real subject (in this case, Iran’s trustworthiness) to an irrelevant one (your opponent’s motivations).

“There’s a world of difference between attacking a person’s argument and attacking a person’s character,” Feulner says. “We need to do more to respect that difference. We need to engage in rational debate and either hold our own or lose with grace.”

Civil discourse isn’t political correctness. As Feulner points out, “We must defend our convictions with all the spirit we can. We should do it, though, with all the civility we can muster, no matter what our opponents do or say.”

We have a full slate of political debates and elections coming in 2014. Let’s engage in them as civilly as we can.