The tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords has inspired many discussions of the need for greater civility in our political life.
Here are a few such articles:
Obama's Oklahoma City Moment by Glenn Thrush & Carol Lee, on Politico.com
In Defense of Inflamed Rhetoric, by Jack Shafer, on Slate.com
A rebuttal of Shafer, by Noam Scheiber, The New Republic
My own view is that Shafer is right to be wary of calls to police political speech. He is right that spirited disagreement is good for democracy. But he is flat out wrong to say: "Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private."
No. Name-calling and villification is precisely what we hope to reduce at CivilPolitics.org. When debates over policy and ideology become debates between good (us) and evil (them), then no debate, no compromise is possible. The ends justify the means, and for some people, even if it's just 1% of the population, violent means become far more justifiable. (Shafer is also flat-out wrong about the Freudian "Catharsis Hypothesis." See work in social psychology, including this book on Anger, by Carol Tavris). I strongly endorse Robert Wright's point, in this New York Times essay:
the emphasis the left is placing on violent rhetoric and imagery is probably misplaced. Sure, calls to violence, explicit or implicit, can have effect. But the more incendiary theme in current discourse is the consignment of Americans to the category of alien, of insidious other. Once Glenn Beck had sufficiently demonized people at the Tides Foundation, actually advocating the violence wasn’t necessary
Once again, the key to improving our politics is reducing demonization.
I second what Jon says above. However, I do believe that liberals, whether it is true or not, should be careful not to specifically target conservative talk radio and other such targets, as that is likely to lead to more extremism, less civility, and more such tragedies. You can read more that opinion here.
- Ravi Iyer
–Here is a study done by the Secret Service which suggests that actual assassins in the USA rarely have political motives. They're mostly losers who want attention. If so, then whether political rhetoric gets more or less civil will have no effect on actual assassinations. There are many good reasons to improve American civility, even if saving lives is not one of them.[Jon Haidt]