Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Desperately seeking civility

By Bill Kraus

Everywhere I turn I hear a plea for civility in politics generally and in political campaigns particularly.

There is even an organization in Oshkosh called the Oshkosh Civility Project devoted to civility. Another is forming in Madison. There may be more.

In government and in campaigns the ad hominem attacks continue unabated nonetheless.

The reason is that incivility is a symptom not a cause of what the pleaders are unhappy about.

The cause is that politics is increasingly the province of yellow-dog partisans.

Yellow dogs want the kind of red-meat demonization that is now endemic and has been for so long.

The campaigns and pronouncements are devoted to currying the support of the rabid yellow-dog voters who have long since decided who and what they favor.

The assumption seems to be that the winners will be whoever gets the most support from this politically hyper segment of the voting public.

This means that campaigns are, in effect if not in fact, mostly about getting out that vote. The aim of the campaigns is to scare voters away from not draw voters to.

When promises drift into the uncharted territory of problems that assault us all, they get very vague. “I can do this because of who I am and what I stand for,” or, more frequently, “He or she can’t to this because of who he or she is.”

I am reminded about some advice I got a very long time ago about campaigning when I was told, “Never get into an argument with a pig. You both will get dirty and the pig likes it.”

And the pig factor is part of the incivility problem.

Most of the virulent demonization that is poisoning the political and governmental well is coming from outsiders, from organizations with names that bely their characterizations and that feature the doomsday consequences of electing the people they don’t like.

These anonymously well-funded newcomers to politics do not simply disagree with the likes of Tommy and Tammy. They want voters to know that a vote for one or the other of them is a vote that will destroy the country. This kind of incivility cannot be stopped. Its proponents can, however, be identified for who they are and where they get their money.

With this done, the people running the campaigns themselves can expose them and turn the real campaigns’ attention to the voters who want a government that works and want to hear a discussion, even an argument about, what can be done and what policies and programs will make good things happen.

Yes, those voters are still there, and they will still decide elections.

The yellow dogs will continue to scream for more lethal weapons and tactics, but we already know how they are going to vote and that feeding their insatiable appetites for vile and bile will make the kind of civility we say we want in office and on the way to office impossible.

I don’t expect “nice.” I don’t want nasty either. What I’ll take is what I saw on a T-shirt recently: “I am being nice. I’m from New York.”

What I want is some ideas not more charges and challenges. I want to detoxify politics. Civility will follow.

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