What Is Needed to Improve Civility?

2 Comments

Paul Krugman’s column today in the Times congratulates President Obama on a wonderful speech, but argues that coming together across differences is far from realistic.

But the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. By all means, let’s listen to each other more carefully; but what we’ll discover, I fear, is how far apart we are. For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.

On one hand, I can see where Krugman is going. Given the imposing, complicated issues we face as a country and our lightning fast discourse thanks to technology, improving civility in our politics is going to be beyond difficult.

On the other hand, I think it’s a cop out. I don’t think civility means what Krugman thinks it means. I agree with Krugman’s claim that we do have two fundamental worldviews at work in our nation; I embrace that reality. I am resistant to the deepening of the chasm between these paradigms over the past few decades. Today, people don’t listen to agree but to disagree. Somehow we have moved to a passive-aggressive style of politics where disagreement on issues is so dangerous that we avoid each other. As the Schiff letter I discussed the other day argues, politics becomes about the problem-solver, not about the problems being solved. As a result, few problems are solved.

Whether or not President Obama’s speech was enough to snap this country out of its trance can only be determined over the next few months/years. Our track record supports the view that it might just be a blip, and that the prevailing winds toward incivility will continue. The question I am left with is what will it take – short of a revolution – to change the way we operate?

Advertisements

Problems with the Political Process

3 Comments

In a letter to the Washington Times, former Republican representative Peter Schiff (R-CT) explains why our political process is so removed from the problems people are actually facing.

This is how the game works in big-time politics: A potential candidate hires a polling firm to create a strategically written and scientifically executed poll to discover the buzzwords and simple campaign themes that ‘resonate’ among voters. Consultants then boil down the poll results to a few ‘winning’ message points and strategies. At that point, the modern candidate simply hammers away again and again at those sound bites. Winners are those who stay ‘on message’ while knocking their opponents ‘off message.’ It is of little consequence to the professionals that this process produces the kind of vacuous, unprincipled leaders who have brought our country to the doorstep of economic ruin.

Most of our officeholders, then, are empty robots, incapable of taking principled stands on issues. Sounds about right.