The American public must hold politicians accountable for increasingly uncivil behavior between Democrats and Republicans in government, two elected officials said Monday, arguing that their colleagues will not change without prodding from voters.Citing talk radio, bloggers and the 24-hour cable news cycle along with the success of negative campaigning, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), said it was up to the public to demand a return to civility in Washington.”As long as people continue to react to it [negative advertising], political consultants are going to continue to use it,” Boehner said during a discussion hosted by the University of Pennsylvania, the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.
Both Lieberman and Boehner said a lack of civility between Democrats and Republicans makes it harder for Congress to get anything done. “There is no conversation,” Boehner said. “We’re talking past each other.”
He said the American people want politicians to return to civility, evidenced by his general election victory as an independent in the 2006 U.S. Senate race in Connecticut. Lieberman, who has lost the Democratic primary to anti-war candidate Ned Lamont, campaigned in the general election as a bridge-builder, promising to work with both Democrats and Republicans. He caucuses with the Democratic Party.While Lieberman and Boehner both decried what they called the lack of civility and understanding between the parties, they both also emphasized the importance of strong and passionate disagreement.
“American politics has always been rough and tumble right from the beginning,” Lieberman said, cautioning against “a danger of being too civil.”
“It’s not improper that we speak strongly,” he said. “We’ve got to watch the ad hominem attacks.”
“We can have a difference of opinion without being miserable to one another,” Boehner said, suggesting that his colleagues must “find ways of disagreeing without being disagreeable.”
Boehner criticized the media for ignoring the “95 percent of the time” in which he said members of the two parties do work together well. “It’s only news when we’re butting heads,” he said.
Joe Lieberman is, in my opinion, one of several of Washington, D.C. ‘s best political gentlemen. The dignity by which the man comports himself inspires respect that crosses all political lines. It was no surprise to me that he would lobby for the return of civility to the political process.
Lieberman and John Boehner are encouraging the public to reject incivility that has come to characterize the US political process and has often stagnated it into unproductive ineffectiveness as members of all parties descend into ad hominem attacks on each other rather than engaging in vigorous debate.
As Lieberman and Boehner rightly point out, civility does not equate to mushy, vacuous weakness nor a temperance of one’s core beliefs. Lieberman warns that in moving towards a more civil government, that we do not want to become “too civil” and forget that there is nothing uncivil about having a different opinion and expressing it with conviction. The political arena demands strong, passionate debate tempered with dignity and civility, not namecalling that often substitutes for cogent, civil debate.
But what can we as average citizens do to move our elected officials to a more civil political discourse? We obviously need to continue to stigmatize uncivil behavior as unacceptable but more importantly, we need to honor and recognize those public servants who do exemplify the best in dignity and civility.