Picture this. The Boise City Club wanted somebody to talk about the subject of civility in politics. So who did the club ask to be the speaker at its recent luncheon?
Sen. Jim Risch, who hardly is a model of congeniality. Inviting him to speak about civility would be like having Tiger Woods lecture about family values. Not surprisingly, there were a few people reflecting dismay about Risch speaking at this forum.
Then, to create more buzz, he said wasn't buying all this stuff about peace, love, and civility. Risch was “civil” in his presentation, but the meaning was clear. Anybody who thinks we can have civility in politics is living in a dream world.
You know what? He’s right. Civility is unattainable in the real world, and in a society where anybody can say almost anything they want about politicians. People also have the freedom to be jerks, if they wish. So, it’s no mystery why political civility doesn’t prevail.
“There’s a tremendous amount of anger out there, and a tremendous amount of uncontrolled anger out there,” he said.
The two presidential candidates – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – are ambassadors for outrage and anger. To me, Americans have every right to be spitting mad over having to choose between two sorry candidates. Civility? Bah Humbug!
The media is no help with the cause of civil discourse. MSNBC promotes the liberal view, FOX News sides with conservatives and talk radio caters to both. But if people are offended by what they see and hear, they should turn to a movie channel.
Incivility is nothing new to politics. As hostile as it might seem, I’ll argue that the environment is tame compared to the Civil Rights marches, Vietnam and Watergate. In today’s world, Risch sees on one side a tea party that is angry about out-of-control spending and thinks that politicians are crooks. On the other side is the “entitlement mentality,” led by the godfather of anger, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
It stands to reason that the U.S. Senate reflects that division. Idaho Sens. Risch and Mike Crapo, two hardline conservatives, are nothing like Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, two bleeding-heart liberals. With that group, forget about forging compromises on abortion rights or gun control. Their constituents have little interest in finding a middle ground.
As Risch sees it, civil discourse will not become part of the political norm until the nation decides where it wants to go – and not just by a few percentage points in a presidential election. “We, as a culture, need to make that decision.”
So, we’re left with a lot of gridlock, dysfunction and hurt feelings.But outside the political arena, Risch says Republicans and Democrats are models of civility. He’ll tell you that Bernie Sanders is a nice guy, and the two have had nice exchanges about families and grandchildren. If he sees Elizabeth Warren on an elevator, they’ll have friendly chatter about family weekend activities – as office co-workers will do.
The Idaho Legislature does not lack for civility, and friendships cross party lines. Most legislators even sat through a workshop on civility, at the encouragement of leadership. The National Institute for Civil Discourse has teamed with the Boise City Club and the Boise State University’s School of Public Service, for an “Idaho Civility Summit.”
“We discussed how it’s important to teach our children the principles of civility, ”Dr. Carolyn Lukensmeyer, the institute’s director, recently wrote in an op-ed for the Idaho Statesman. “Importantly, civic leaders, journalists and public officials worked together to identify actions taken to increase civility and decrease political dysfunction in Idaho.”
Thank goodness, the Lewiston Tribune’s Marty Trillhaase was not engaged in that discussion.Marty is part of a dying breed – a pit bull of an editorial writer who takes on the political establishment with gusto and challenges one-party rule in Idaho. Politicians may view him as“angry” and “uncivil.” But I’ll take his brand of editorial writing over civility-minded wags who wouldn’t say “boo” if they saw a ghost.
Maybe it would be nice where people can talk out their differences, but in due respect to the Boise City Club, it isn’t going to happen in a free society – or in the near future.
And it took Sen.Jim Risch, of all people, to provide the reality check.