Restoring Civility: Will You Take the Pledge?
September 16, 2009
It will probably go down in history as the first presidential speech remembered not for what the President said, but for how a member of his audience responded.
Even if you didn't watch Barack Obama's health care address last week, I'm sure you've heard what happened. Obama had just finished saying that his health care plan would not cover illegal aliens. In response, Rep. Joe Wilson shouted out, "You lie!" shocking television audiences from coast to coast, not to mention the President.
Talking heads have spent the rest of the week talking about the need for civility in public discourse—and that's a good thing. Two people who are likely paying close attention to this debate are men who are about as far apart politically as it's possible to get. Mark DeMoss is the conservative president of the DeMoss Group. Lanny Davis is a former advisor to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
DeMoss and Davis—both concerned about the sharp decline in civility—have created an online forum called The Civility Project. Its goal: getting Americans to re-learn how to disagree without being so nasty to one another. They are inviting Americans of every political stripe to take a civility pledge, in which they commit to three things: "I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it." . . .
I can't excuse Rep. Wilson's outburst. But I do understand his frustration. For months, President Obama himself has been repeatedly accusing his opponents of lying about his health care plan—just as he did in his speech before Congress. Even liberal CNN says Obama's regular use of the word "lie" is "unstatesmanlike." . . .
It's a positive step—albeit a small one—to restore civility to our national discourse.
I often agree with Chuck Colson, but this time I cannot.
I, too, believe that honest, polite debate is desirable in many cases. If we were debating a speed limit, a foreign policy, and many other niceties of political interaction, I would be completely on board with Chuck.
But when we face a demagogue who is clearly bent on the destruction of liberty, civility might be a luxury we cannot afford. (As an aside, it is difficult to see why the statement ‘you lie’ when addressed to someone who is lying is ‘uncivil.’ That is not name-calling; it is not any kind of personal attack.)
Those who would destroy liberty will hide behind civility when it suits their immediate purpose. When personal attacks suit their purposes, they will (and they do) gladly employ those.
Thus, it becomes very easy for defenders of liberty to paint themselves into a corner if they define any strong, direct confrontation as ‘uncivil.’ The enemies of liberty do not so restrict themselves. They never have, and they never will.
If talk about ‘civility’ in public discourse overshadows truth in public discourse, then, contrary to Chuck, it is NOT a good thing. Barack Obama and his allies are not some kind of misguided seekers after truth who have simply made an honest mistake. They are clearly working systematically to destroy our liberty. They are not debating things here like the tariff rate on tires from Asia. They have made it very clear that they have no regard for your traditional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
When our bodies are attacked by cancer, we do not respond with medicinal ‘civility.’ We do what must be done in order to rid ourselves of the cancer and survive. There is a way in which that must also be true in the body politic.
If we who would defend liberty decide to impose upon ourselves an artificial and arbitrary standard of ‘civility’ which excludes pointing out in public that an official is using lies in an effort to destroy basic liberty, then you can kiss liberty goodbye.
If the emperor really has no clothes, it is truly ‘uncivil’ to state that fact?