Political Politeness

Why have public political discussions gotten so rude?

Working for the Federal Government, most of us have learned to keep our political allegiances private, at least at work. At home I have good friends on both sides of the aisle, so I practice keeping a civil tongue in my head there as well, at least when I’m around those who don’t share my views. Not everyone subscribes to these policies however.

I get a lot of my political entertainment from MSNBC and FOX NEWS. Two polar opposites that can’t be tuned to at the same time. Remember MTV’s old Celebrity Deathmatch? Clay figures of famous folks pitted against each other in a fight to the death? I’ve seen matches like Sean Connery Vs. Roger Moore and Jack Nicholson Vs. Leonardo DiCaprio. I would love to see Keith Olbermann Vs. Bill O’Reilly. I’d like to see Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh go up against Bill Maher and Michael Moore. Maybe in a melee, you know, with battle-axes in a dark basement.

It always amazes me how vitriolic the verbiage gets over what is basically political philosophy. It also seems like the most strident voices on the sidelines of both sides have the least understanding of what is going on. Real political folks don’t act like this. James Carville and Mary Matalin are happily married. Ted Kennedy and Jerry Falwell actually got along on a personal level. What’s with their followers?

Politicians of differing stripes often laugh and drink together. Seeing aides from opposite poles sharing drinks after work, and I see this a lot as a Noted Barfly, I am reminded of that old Warner Brothers cartoon with the wolf and the sheepdog punching the time-clock and greeting each other in the morning, asking about each others’ wives and families. They become deadly enemies for the duration of their shift in the sheep pasture, then clock out with “See you tomorrow, Fred.” “Yeah, g’night, Al.”

If it is all business as usual for them, why are the rest of us taking it so personally?

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Allen Sheaprd

We can agree to disagree. Do not forge Arnold S. and Maria Schriver – that must be an interesting Thanksgiving dinner. Arnold and Ted Kennedy at the same table for hours.

Actualy only by watching FoxNews and MSNBC can one see both sides of the coin. IMO the only way to know what is bothering a person or why they disagree is to find out why, yes why, they disagree. That requires listening and thinking. Sadly listening requires time away from ones own political side.

Sadly things are tense now so people may not want to stop defending ‘their’ position and wander over to the other side. All I can say is it worth the trip. The best example was Dec31st, 1914 when peace broke out in the middle of war between two sides that did not even speak the same language. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_truce

Good imagry of the sheep dog and the fox who clock out each night with “See you tomorrow, Fred.” “Yeah, g’night, Al.”

Ed Albetski

Ah yes! Arnold and Maria. Thank you. I’ve heard that Arnold gets along very well with “Uncle Ted” too. Yes, I’ve managed to keep all my friends despite political differences. I just find it disturbing that so many get so strident about things over which very few people have control. I can imagine the Tennessee branch of the family Christmassing withthe New York branch. “Open your gift! I got you Valium.”

Allen Sheaprd


You are not alone. The one thing we have in common is that we are all unique and different 😉

While many can talk – some can not. What is happening? In my opoinion it is some of talk radio. Why? Well lets say everyone is waiting in line or stuck on the highway. One person gets out of line or drives on the median. People see this and figure “he/she knows something I do not” or “they did it why not me” and then more people start. For each person who falls out of line two or more follow. Pretty soon it cascades into a mass exoudus and the traffic jam moves to the median.

In this case a few professionals make a living out of talking and the the rest follow in kind. IMO – the difference is the professionals can turn it off and balace their approach. Hence Arnold and Ted can sit down together and maybe even have a cigar while looking out over Martha’s vinyard.

Just an idea from Malcom Gladwells book “The tipping point” Its not my idea but Mr. Gladwells.

Ed, here is to our seeing life from different points and discussing it 😉 For as Gen Patton said “When six men are thinking alike – only one man is thinking”

Though I support and thank you for your blog we will have differences. May they not come between good bloggers.


Andre Goodfriend

You right that the airwaves are a lot hotter than they used to be. There’s a certain irony that civil discussion is taking place on the Internet, site of the notorious flame wars (do they still occur?), while the broadcast media — which used to be known for its dispassionate delivery — has become so heated.

One reason may be that emotion and sensationalism sells, and the media attract their audiences through their breathless bombasts. But, another element that is generally pointed to is the demise of the Fairness Doctrine. There was a lot of conservative angst with the election of President Obama and a Democratic majority in Congress that the Fairness Doctrine would be revived. The more position favored by many who view media as a public trust, such as Steve Rendall from Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) is that “as public trustees, broadcasters ought to be insuring that they inform the public, not inflame them.” While the position taken by conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation was that the “Fairness Doctrine” stifled free speech and set a dangerous, unconstitutional precedent.

The growth of cable television channels in the years since the setting aside of the Fairness Doctrine has probably helped fuel the vitriol (or used vitriol to fuel the fire) because conflict, even contrived conflict draws audiences.

Perhaps turning the Internet into a place for meaningful, reasoned discussion (pipe dream as it may seem) may be the ultimate irony. Flames from the professionals and reason from the masses.

But, we’re not there yet….

Ed Albetski

Thanks for the reading list. I think my son has the Henig book.
I like the concept of public discourse and agree that it is often too easily hijacked by one side or the other. I think the problem with a program that featured such a forum would be it’s length and watchability. Bullying tactics are so common, and participants often ignore the question asked and recite their own talking points instead that we would have to have moderators armed with cattle-prods as well as time limits to get any real sense out of such a forum. This is why we don’t really have true political debates in the US.

I think my biggest complaint is that the media always seems to begin with the assumption that there are only two points of view. We compound this in the US by institutionalizing the two-party system. We used to have more political parties. Pity they have all dwindled away. While the Republican Party sort of aligns with conservative views and the Democratic Party sort of aligns with liberal views, neither fit is exact, and sometimes those disagreeing issues are big. My, I have become such a cynic!
Thanks for you thoughtful response, Tom.