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Only One Makes Pledge to Civility

July 13, 2010

Mark DeMoss, a former advisor for Governor Mitt Romney’s 2008 presidential campaign, and Lanny J. Davis, a former aide to President Clinton, are taking on partisan politics one signature at a time.

Prior to Memorial Day, these two sent out a pledge to 585 elected officials. This pledge was not something as demanding as a “No New Tax Pledge” or “Energy Independence Pledge.” It asked for something much simpler and less charged: civility and respect in politics. As of today, only one politician has signed the pledge.

Partisanship and personal attacks have become the status quo in recent years. With politicians spending an increasing amount of time, money, and effort attacking their political adversaries, Americans have simply come to expect such behavior from their leaders.

Candidates running for Congress in 2010 have elevated the partisan rhetoric to a whole new level. In attempts to separate themselves from their national parties’ recent shortcomings and focus attention elsewhere, politicians are strategically bringing the bickering to the local level hoping that even with a lack of national confidence in their party, attack ads will help them win office. Some have called on the public to send in damaging footage of candidates while others have hired trackers with video cameras, leaving no stone unturned.

But many see such strategy as desperation. If you are trying to prove that you are more in touch with America on the issues that matter, using a Reverend Wright attack strategy usually doesn’t change opinion. The attacks go both ways; recently an ad came out attacking Sharron Angle while another came out attacking Nancy Pelosi. The American people are so constantly bombarded with negativity that the issues up for debate seem to be lost in the mayhem of scandal.

Sometimes, mud slinging can work. In the 1964 Presidential Race, the infamous “Daisy Girl” ad demonstrating Goldwater’s “trigger-happy” reputation led to the near landslide victory of Lyndon Johnson. The Swift Boat scandal in the 2004 presidential race caused such a stir that the term “swift-boating” is now a generic term used to refer to any kind of negative advertising. In the 1994 U.S. Senate race in Virginia, tension between Oliver North and Chuck Robb escalated until the candidates themselves publicly called each other “liars.” These examples in American politics through the years demonstrate the undeniable tendency for candidates to throw each other under the bus in the heat of the campaign trail.

The politicization of the issues and elections creates great drama, but bad policy. America will prosper only through rational debate over the merits of politicians and policy. The polarization and partisanship among politicians today demonstrate the need now, more than ever, for our nation’s leaders to abandon their personal attacks and appeal to their integrity and expertise.

This lack of respect and civil communication within campaigns and legislatures is staggering and disheartening. According to the Allegheny College Civility Report, the American people want to see more civility in politics. If we stop responding to these tactics, perhaps politicians will react in turn. America needs a rebirth of civility. The time has come for us to demand it.

-Hannah Clark

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