A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Demise of The Civility Project

The founder of the Civility Project, Mark DeMoss, is pulling the plug on the endeavor after two years. As an evangelical Christian and a conservative Republican, he enlisted the assistance of Lanny Davis, a liberal Democrat and a Jew. DeMoss and Davis sent letters (585 of them) to every member of Congress and all state governors asking them to sign on to the project. The letter asked three things of our politicians:

1) I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
2) I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
3) I will stand against incivility when I see it.

After two years and $30,000 in expenditures only three politicians have signed the pledge: Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, (Independent of Connecticut); Representative Frank Wolfe, (Republican of Virginia); and Representative Sue Myrick, (Republican of North Carolina).

DeMoss and Davis believed that having set the bar so low they expected many governors and legislators to sign the pledge. Obviously, that is not what happened. No wonder DeMoss is so disappointed.

I commend DeMoss and Davis for this noble attempt, but the fact that so many did not commit themselves to more civil political discourse is not surprising. Please consider the following:

1. Can one imagine the howling that would come from the hyper partisan right and left if their politicians made the decision to conduct themselves civilly toward the other side? For hyper partisans, politics is not the discussion necessary to discover the goods we have in common; it is a war where the only objective is complete and total victory with the tools of demagoguery and demonization as the weapons of choice against the other side which is evil and to be considered the enemy. Such war is to be waged because the opposition isn't only wrong or mistaken, but they are habitual liars with nefarious purposes. Can one imagine what Rush Limbaugh or the currently network homeless Keith Olbermann would say if the politicians they support refused to engage in such vitriol?

2. Politicians want to be able to reserve the option of negative campaigning in a tough election fight. Surveys taken consistently reveal that the American voters hate negative campaigns. Surveys also consistently reveal that negative campaigning works. Most politicians don't want to find themselves two or three percentage points down in the polls two weeks before the election with no way to sling political mud in return for the mud being thrown at them.

3. Most politicians have no trouble pointing to the incivility of the other side, but avoid at all costs criticizing the incivility of their own. The Civility Project would ask them to oppose all civility. Such an endeavor hardly serves the political purposes of one's own party.

So while one could have hoped that the Civility Project would have caught on, I was never hopeful that it would be successful, not because it was not a noble endeavor, but because so much of our political discourse, even among Christians, seems beyond redemption.
Henry Neufeld posts some great thoughts on civility and accuracy. Read his post here.

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