Modest Proposals for Increasing Civility in Election Season

Article excerpt


By Stephen Hess

Brookings Institution 159 pp., $14.95 It's not exactly news that media coverage of America's political campaigns leaves almost as much to be desired as the way in which the candidates conduct them. Negative ads, dirty tricks, fatuous sound bites, spin-doctors, incessant poll-taking, and in-your-face talk shows are just a few of the sorry signs of our times. Judith Martin (Miss Manners) puts it just right in her introduction to Stephen Hess's light-hearted yet perfectly serious book: "Everyone is now screaming for civility. Of course if everyone would stop screaming, we might have it." In a series of brief essays enlivened by reprints of the decade's best political cartoons, Hess succinctly analyzes many of the problems besetting our woefully uncivil political discourse. Hess displays a clear understanding of the chicken-and-egg relationship between the way campaigns are run and the way they're reported. Politicians focus on polls, strategy, and image-enhancement instead of grappling with real problems like foreign policy, employment, the environment, or the balance of trade. Meanwhile, journalists devote their time to analyzing polls, campaign strategy, and whether a given politician is "winning or losing." Hess blames this "horse race" mentality on the fact that journalists find such stories easy to write. Addressing itself to politicians, journalists, and the general public, "The Little Book of Campaign Etiquette" offers a number of constructive ideas for improving this state of affairs. …


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