Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Punish the Nasty Ones Politicians Won't Become More Civil until Voters Make Them So

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Punish the Nasty Ones Politicians Won't Become More Civil until Voters Make Them So

Article excerpt

Vitriol practically oozed from the lips of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich as he blamed his descent from poll favorite to fourth place in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses on unscrupulous attacks directed against him. Earlier in the day he had pointed to ads run by allies of Mitt Romney and labeled the former governor a "liar."

The pre-Iowa campaign season was characterized by the rapid rise and rapid decline of a series of social conservatives -- Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, then Mr. Gingrich. As each rose in the polls, opponents and media examined or attacked their records in ways they deemed uncivil. Commentators claimed the level of civil discourse is reaching a new low in American politics.

Not quite.

Just over two years ago, when Rep. Joe Wilson, R-N.C., interrupted President Barack Obama during his health care speech to Congress by shouting "you lie!" a hush came over the House chamber and Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled for order. Mr. Wilson apologized, but there were no consequences.

Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., passed the incivility test recently when he described fellow Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., "the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the House of Representatives."

Politicians attack opponents because the political benefits outweigh the costs. The tone of the GOP presidential campaign may have been demeaning at times, but those setting that tone have not been punished at the polls.

Many decry incivility as detrimental to our governing process. In the dog days of last summer, the U.S. government came within one day of failing to raise the national debt ceiling, which would have risked default. As a result of this demonstrated inability to govern rationally, the United States lost its AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's. The nation watched in disgust, yet the scenario was all but repeated last month as Congress dithered over extending payroll tax reductions and unemployment benefits.

Recent polls reflect the public reaction. Congress' approval rating is below 10 percent.

No one argues in favor of "uncivil" speech any more than women's rights advocates argue in favor of abortion rather than in opposition to restrictions on one's right to an abortion. …

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