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Taking the easy way out

By Scott Tibbs, May 27, 2008

My post on Friday got me thinking about the overall tone of politics. There has been a lot of talk about changing the tone of politics in Washington, something that seems to have become more prevalent with the rise of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The childish taunts of "junkie" that are used in place of reasoned discourse about Rush Limbaugh's views and arguments are only a small example of the coarsening of political discourse. National politics is what it is; it has always been a brawl and always will be. That's the nature of the "game".

What has struck me over the last seven years is how brutal local politics can be. I've seen people launch personal attacks and spread malicious personal gossip. I've seen people betray trust, stab others in the back and brazenly lie about what someone has said or done to score cheap political points. And that's just by a few malcontents in the local Republican Party. If we're going to complain about the tone of politics at any level, those of us who participate in the political process need to consider what we have done to encourage or discourage civil discourse.

It's clear that I've not held myself to a high standard of discourse in local politics at times. Rather than make a list of my mistakes, the appropriate question to explore is what I can do to change the level of political discourse. There are two minor changes I can make. I am going to try to avoid a couple little jabs that I use to get under the skin of political opponents: referring to the Democratic Party the "Democrat Party" and using Obama's middle name when referring to him. From now on, the "Democrat Party" is the Democratic Party and "Barack Hussein Obama" is simply Barack Obama. As much as I find the so-called "moderate" malcontents within the local Republican Party to be vile, despicable individuals, the pejorative "bitter old hag" is going into mothballs as well.

Of course, as I explained earlier this month, negative politics is not bad in and of itself. There is a great deal about what I say and write that will not change, as there are many legitimate things to criticize in politics. While it infuriates some folks for me to use the word liar, for example, there are many times when that is appropriate. When someone says something he or she knows to not be true, it is a lie, making that person a liar. It is not uncivil to point this out. Saying that I will attempt to be more civil does not in any way, shape or form mean that I will not criticize, and sometimes harshly criticize, political opponents. Civility is not surrender.

What I can do, however, is clean up a lot of the little things, such as using needless pejoratives or graphical representations of disdain such as "eyeroll" emoticons. A big part of maintaining civility is to not allow myself to get into a urinating contest with someone who is attempting to distract from an issue-oriented discussion with a personal attack, insult or red herring. Most incivility can be avoided simply by not responding to those little barbs.

Of course, I am going to fail in this effort. My goal is to keep those failures as infrequent as possible. Over time, genuine respect and civility will generally bring forth responses in kind. But whatever the reaction to me is, the place to start in raising the level of political discourse is with the person looking back at me from the mirror.