Loss of civility in politics means a loss of discussion

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | 10:24 a.m. CDT; updated 6:16 p.m. CDT, Thursday, September 24, 2009

Divided. Mob mentality. Racist. Nazi. Socialist. Communist. Fascist. Un-American. Petty. Paranoid.  The list goes on.

These words are usurping the health care and education debates in this country. These are words of anger, fed by the extremes on both sides who refuse to hear the voice of the opposition.  These are the words of the neo-conservative and neo-liberal uprising. An uprising that appears to be outside the control.

I really wanted to leave the health care and education issues for another day. I wanted to leave discussions of the language of discontent in my classrooms and not this column. I cannot.

Donna Brazile, political commentator for ABC News and presidential campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore, told George Stephanopoulos on “This Week” that she believed America is becoming a “culture of extremism.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a recent press conference that she fears that the language of hate will lead to the violence seen in San Francisco and other major cities in the United States during the 1960s and '70s.   

Even my commentary of 9/11 was attacked with anger using language I cannot print here. I simply suggested that a better way of fighting terrorism is to properly fund and educate our children. It drew language that, in my opinion (and this is an opinion column) is uncivil and degrading to the discussion.

In a group called “Freethinkers,” this one article has generated almost 30 comments. Do not think that this is a liberal-humanist group. One member describes himself as “so far right, I'm left and John Birch is pink.” Now that is conservative. (You have to be registered with to read the comments.)

Another stated, without apology, “Kids do NOT need the best education available any more than I need to check into the Mayo Clinic when I get a splinter …  Public education to me is pretty much public intellectual welfare.”

Excuse me? And what planet are you from?

Yet it is the same irrational attitude that is surrounding the health care debate.

More than 70 million Americans are uninsured and underinsured. This 110-year struggle to provide reasonable health care to all Americans is, in my eyes, the major failure of our government.

In Missouri, 13 percent of our neighbors are without insurance, not including undocumented workers; 28 percent are insured under government “socialist” programs, like Medicare or Veterans Affairs; 54 percent of those insured receive their coverage from their employers and have little idea of the total costs.

We have witnessed or seen reports of protesters getting in the faces of their representatives or senators, screaming how it is unfair helping our fellow man and is somehow un-American. They screamed loud enough that several members of Congress had additional security during these town hall meetings.

The sounds of hate are emanating not only from the right. When Joe Wilson yelled “You lie” during the president’s speech to the joint session of Congress, many liberals, some who might be so far left that they are right and make Greenpeace look red, screamed “racism.”

The majority of opinion is that this was not an act of racism—inappropriate stupidity maybe, but not racism. Personally, I believe it was staged to provoke the continued partisan battles. That is not to say that racism and prejudice do not exist—it does, and I, myself, have been a target over the years.

I believe that Americans have lost much of our civility and humanity. I am deeply saddened hearing such words of hate and immorality. On April 4, 1968, Robert Kennedy gave a heartfelt eulogy for Martin Luther King Jr. to a primarily black audience in Indianapolis. His words should resonate today as they did 41 years ago. 

"But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings that abide in our land.

“Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.”

David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at

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Janet woods September 24, 2009 | 11:55 a.m.

I agree; we "have lost much of our civility and humanity." We don't want to listen to the other side, don't want to hear the facts, only care about how something affects us, are disinclined to help others. It is sad and disheartening -- and, in the case of health care reform, short-sighted and ultimately self-defeating. In the end, we all pay for those who cannot afford health care, only we pay premium rates because we did not care enough to prevent the preventable, cure the curable.

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 24, 2009 | 12:11 p.m.

I largely disagree with David here. The American dialogue has actually become more, not less civil than it was in past years, and I don't see a return to the violence of previous decades rearing its head anytime soon.

Our politics are among the world's most civilized. Joe Wilson's outburst, in the British Parliament for instance, would be considered a matter of routine. Members of Parliament routinely get into loud, heated debates with the Prime Minister that, by American standards, would be considered just horrifying!

During the early part of the country's history, it wasn't uncommon for words to lead to duels. And if we consider today's press loud, obnoxious, ranting, and overly partisan, we need only look at the press of yore to find out how much louder and "uncivilized" it used to be.

I recommend MU professor Jeff Pasley's excellent "The Tyranny of Printers" for anyone who thinks our American dialogue has gotten so crazy and uncivil. We've got nothing on our early newspapers, pundits, and journalists, who used their loud, boisterous voices to create a free nation. The louder, the better I say.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro September 25, 2009 | 1:43 a.m.

("Political correctness has changed everything. People forget that political correctness used to be called spastic gay talk")
Frankie Boyle, Mock The Week.

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Web Smith September 25, 2009 | 6:11 p.m.

Rep. Clyburn said it best as he was voting to rebuke Rep. Wilson when he said, “Silence is consent”. The only harm was done when the rest of Congress remained silent and consented to the falsehoods that Obama was speaking when they knew better because they had been stripping citizenship enforcement out of the bill as it was written. Soon after the speech and after Rep. Wilson spoke up on our behalf, the White House quietly admitted that citizenship verification enforcement was not in the bill. Soon after that, the Senate put it in.

Even though health care associated legislation was passed prior to 1850, that was the year that the AMA was formed by a few doctors who were concerned about the growing number of doctors and the competitive effect that it was having on their prices. The AMA convinced Congress, through lobbying and campaign donations, to give it the authority to govern medical schools. By 1900, the AMA had reduced the number of medical schools from 140 to 70. Costs for medical schools went up and the number of doctors leaving medical schools was reduced. As the population grew, the number of doctors per capita was reduced allowing doctors to charge more for their services. Medical students who are not members of wealthy families now, typically, face paying off $250,000 in loans when they get out of school which is more than most of the world’s population makes in its lifetime. Since you can't run hospitals without doctors, the number of treatment centers per capita was also reduced and their prices went up. Seeing the AMA's success, the rest of the health care industry got involved resulting in government limited numbers of insurance companies, treatments, treatment centers, medications, nurses, innovation, and doctors that have caused prices to shoot up to their current unaffordable levels due to the lack of competition.

Now the government, which has become the largest protection racket in the history of the world, wants to take these same numbers of limited resources and spread them out over another 30-50 million people. The only possible way that this can be dome is trough rationing. Availability and quality will go down and prices will skyrocket as the taxpayers fund entry into a larger market on behalf of industry giants. This new risky market will be targeted with products that are partially covered or not covered at all. What these corporate giants can't milk out of the poor will be taken as write offs. This entire diabolical agenda amounts to nothing less than RICO.

If the government had not started running health care on behalf of special interests 150 years ago, health care would still be affordable, we would not need Medicare or Medicaid, and doctors would be in the business of saving patients rather than serving HMOs and drug companies. Their ability to succeed would be based on the quality and price of their service.

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