Right Wisconsin has two views on whether civility in politics is even possible, let alone necessary.
The first comes from former state Rep. Michelle Litjens:
Not so very long ago, Americans gathered around the radio to listen to the same news programs and the same radio shows every night. Then they read the same newspapers. The entire nation watched M.A.S.H. At work we could discuss what we watched the night before on T.V. and discuss and laugh about it because we all watched the same programs. After all, there were only 3 stations. Despite our political differences, we had far more in common than things that made us different.
Let’s look at today. Today liberals watch MSNBC and conservatives watch FOX News. Conservatives listen to talk radio and liberals listen to public radio. The internet is filled with thousands of different views and perspectives so that we are able to search for news that fits our specific political viewpoints which solidifies why we are right and they are wrong.
This polarization effects where we live too. Conservatives are more likely to move out to the country for more land and less government. Liberals are attracted to urban living with smaller living spaces and more government services.
We are self-segregating and it isn’t making us a stronger country. In fact, when we don’t know anyone who disagrees with us then people with different viewpoints become less like people to us. They become the enemy. And when it comes to enemies, anything goes.You can say anything about your enemy, attack your enemy, and because enemies are seen as less human than you, bad behavior becomes acceptable.
I was recently the conservative voice on Wisconsin Public Radio for an hour. I do this about every other month. I think it is important to make sure that our side has a voice in the heart of liberalism.
It was an hour long discussion with a liberal progressive about Washington politics and state issues. Our conversation was very pleasant and we had some great dialogue.
About an hour after the show, a lady called me. A very angry lady. She was so upset with what I said her voice was shaking. She yelled at me for what I said about the President. She wouldn’t let me speak to defend myself and then when I did, and I was nice, she was more upset for me.
She was so angry with me that I was shaking after I hung up the phone. Now, could I have hung up on her and evaded this whole thing? Yes. But I quickly learned while dealing with opponents of Act 10 that you need to let angry people vent a bit or the hatred only grows.
What is happening to our country that people think this kind of behavior is acceptable? The worst part of this is that the left is especially hateful of conservative women. They attack conservative women with venom. What people write and say about me and my family on the internet would make your skin crawl. Liberal talk radio hosts, bloggers, nameless/faceless commenters, etc. Although I try to not read these things my children read them. And the left says they are the ones who stand up for women? Really?
We need this to end. We need to become one country again. One country who respects the views of others when we disagree. Every view point has value. Even when their opinions are wrong. This is what separates the United States of America from Russia and China where you can’t have different views than the government or you are silenced.
Litjens doesn’t mention her own experience with civility, or lack thereof. During an Act 10 debate in the Assembly, state Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) said to Litjens, “You are f—ing dead!” Did Hintz face any recriminations for what should have earned him at least a punch in the face? No. Did Hintz apologize? You decide. (Then again, Hintz also remained in the Assembly despite his conviction for soliciting a prostitute, which says as much about Hintz’s constituents as himself.)
As someone with strongly held political views who can nevertheless avoid expressing them, I observe that screaming at someone doesn’t win political arguments. On the other hand, we live in a world with a great deal of irrationality and illogic in, though not limited to, politics.
The opposing view from Litjens (delivered in a civil fashion, as opposed to Hintz) comes from Chris Rochester:
I disagree that the demise of mainstream outlets and the rise of biased ones like RedState and HuffPo is a bad thing. Well over a hundred years ago, newspapers were open about who they supported, going so far as to name themselves after the party they shilled for.
Then they learned to pretend to be unbiased. Today bias shows up in more insidious ways such as selective coverage of stories and of the facts therein. History is cyclical, and it’s just repeating itself as the façade of impartiality has worn thin enough to see through.
As for the tone of political discourse in America, I agree that a commitment to pluralism should be made, but I propose that “we” is actually “they.”
Litjens tells the story of a bile-spitting woman who called to tell her off following an interview, her voice trembling with anger. This is the sort of person who must be persuaded to put her prejudice aside and respectfully disagree in a dispassionate way. The problem is this: from the Bush era on, The Left has whipped its base into such a froth that they actually believe their political opponents are bad people who want to hurt them.
That, as psychologists might say, is the basis of an intractable conflict.
Spiteful conservatives who truly hate liberals are out there, but they’re kept in check. Conservatism is inherently a pluralistic, intellectual, introspective philosophy. The GOP believes it’s made stronger by internal disagreement, dialogue, and primaries. That’s to our advantage, because hatred is inferior to good ideas and hard work as political tools.
The Left, by contrast, offers stale ideas that have a proven record of failure and an inherently arrogant philosophy that at its core proposes that liberals and their appointees are uniquely qualified to make decisions for others. They try to prevent partisan primaries. Their ideas can’t withstand much debate – it’s The Left that constantly seeks to shut down debate, not the right.
President Bush compromised with The Left in the bipartisan manner so many in the media long for today. No Child Left Behind. Medicare Part D. The bipartisan Iraq War. Comprehensive immigration reform. President Bush did exactly what the statist blabbo-sphere wishes from the new GOP majority – bipartisanship and compromise.
For his conciliation, what did Bush get? He was ridiculed, reviled, tormented, and despised by even mainstream Democrats with a rarely-seen vitriol. He was compared to Hitler. His assassination was depicted in a movie – to great fanfare from The Left.
He respected them, signed their bills, and in return they hated him even more.
The goal of civil disagreement is a worthy one, but that commitment must first be made by a seething mass of spiteful people on The Left. I’m not going to hold my breath.
Like Litjens, I appear from time to time on WPR, including on one segment where, let’s just say, it was a good thing the two of us weren’t in the same studio. It is important for conservatives to not wall off themselves in the Fox News/Rush Limbaugh/Charlie Sykes sphere of right thinking, because all you get is subtle variations on the same school of thought. You’re not going to change anyone’s mind by not encountering anyone with different ideas from yours, and you’re not going to hone your own arguments in an echo chamber.
The fault for lack of civility in politics lies with those who have created the system as it exists today. That is, to be precise, the incumbent party, the people who benefit when the stakes are too high in elections. If government was half the size it is today (which is what it should be, and would have been had we had constitutional controls on spending and taxes), and if politicians received the correct amount of pay and benefits (none), the stakes would be lower, and politics would be far less unpleasant than it is today.
Politics is, remember, a zero-sum game. One side wins, thus the other side loses. When government takes away your rights, you lose. When government increases your taxes, you lose. And compromising your core beliefs (for instance, agreeing to increase taxes only a little) for the sake of making a deal is also losing. (See George H.W. “Read My Lips” Bush.)
I said some time ago, and I maintain the opinion today, that at some point relatively soon someone is going to get killed as a result of the next nasty political debate or campaign. And, unfortunately, I cannot see within the rest of my lifetime any way that Litjens’ plea for unity will ever happen. We’re not one country now, and we haven’t been one country for a very long time. The only thing that unifies partisans is hatred of the opposing side.
The funny coda to this unfunny subject comes from CSPAN, which featured two brothers, both of which lead diametrically opposite political groups, reports the Washington Post:
Everybody knows that the best part about CSPAN is the unpredictable nature of the show’s call-in segments, where regular hosts and guests do an admirable job of fielding unusual questions with no advance warning. But brothers Brad and Dallas Woodhouse are now the champions of awkward CSPAN calls, after the politically divided brothers ended up taking a call from their mom.
“Oh God, it’s mom,” Dallas Woodhouse said as soon as “Joy” from North Carolina started to speak.
“You’re right, I’m from down south,” she said. “And I’m your MOTHER.”
She’d called to take issue with something her kids said on air: That the brothers’ political bickering — you see, one is liberal, and the other is conservative — is typical of most families. “I don’t know many families that are fighting at Thanksgiving,” she said. “I’m hoping you’ll have some of this out of your system when you come here for Christmas. I would really like a peaceful Christmas.”
Steve Scully, the show’s host, jumped in to clarify: “This was not planned. She called in on the normal line.”
“I love you mom,” Dallas said at one point.
“And I love politics,” she replied.
Addressing Scully, she said: “They’re both very passionate about what they believe in, and I love that about them; but I hope they just kinda get this out of their system today on your program.”
That’s one way to handle political disputes within a family. The other is to ban talking about politics at Christmas. I’m familiar with that family.