Do Manners Matter?
IN MARCH 1997, amid great fanfare, members of our two great political parties converged on a conference center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, for what was billed as the Bipartisan Congressional Retreat. The retreat's stated purpose was to "seek a greater degree of civility, mutual respect and, when possible, bipartisanship among Members of the House of Representatives in order to foster an environment in which vigorous debate and mutual respect can coexist."1 Representative Ray LaHood, an Illinois Republican who was one of the retreat's organizers, suggested that if members could "get to know one another" better, they would be able to work out their differences with greater civility.2
This instinct conforms to the teaching of both social science and common experience: we are less likely to be rude to those we know well.3 Much of the nation's incivility crisis grows from our inability to get along--especially with political opponents. In short, the Bipartisan Congressional Retreat was so obviously a good idea that the tragedy is that some members scoffed instead and chose not to attend.* For example, Republican Joel Hefley of Colorado called it "[t]he dumbest idea I've ever heard," and Democrat David Obey of Wisconsin gibed, "You can go to Hershey 50 times and it's not going to make a difference." Both men invoked the other party's behavior to justify their dismissal of the retreat.4 Stripped of verbal fillips, however, the objections came down to this: there is no need to be civil with those on the other side.____________________