Can the folks who govern us do so with civility?
Only three of 585 officials signed a civility pledge last year
Sadly, we accept -- maybe even expect -- incivility despite the predictable call for more civility in the wake of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ Jan. 8 shooting.
How else to explain the inexplicable: Just three members of Congress signed a bi-partisan pledge of civility last year. Not one governor signed.
Fuhgettaboutit, none of the pledge’s signers are from New Jersey -- not the governor, neither senator and none of our representatives. Seems that should change, but more about that later.
Here’s the background: R. Mark DeMoss, a right-leaning Christian evangelical, together with his friend, Lanny Davis, a left-leaning Jew who had served in the Clinton White House, sent out 585 letters to every member of Congress and every sitting governor last May.
This is the simple 32-word pledge:
- I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
- I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
- I will stand against incivility when I see it.
Not exactly pollyannaish or controversial.
But only one Independent senator and two Republican representatives signed the pledge before Jan. 3 this year -- that’s when the founder of CivilityProject.org, decided the time had come to pull the plug.
In announcing plans to shut down his project, DeMoss further explained himself. He wrote:
“Some have wrongly concluded this project was a call to end partisanship (we support partisanship), to limit free speech (I wouldn’t try), to surrender personal beliefs and convictions (I would never do that), or for unity (I submit that civility and unity are not the same thing).
“I’m worried about where we’re headed as a country on the civility scale. I’d be more worried if I were an elected representative at any level.”
DeMoss cited a recent study by the Center for Political Participation at Allegheny College and KRC Research:
- Nearly half of all Americans surveyed said they are “tuning out” government and politics.
- Two-thirds of Americans consider a lack of civility to be a major problem for the country.
- More than two-thirds said Americans “should be ashamed of the way elected officials acted” during last year’s health care debate.
- And 83 percent said “people should not vote for candidates and politicians who are uncivil.”
Initially I thought the Toms River region’s new member of congress, Rep. Jon Runyan, got the message, despite not being sworn in until after the the Civility Project concluded.
During this week’s debate on repealing already enacted healthcare legislation, Runyan was direct, yet statesman-like, when he made remarks on the house floor Wednesday:
"Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of HR 2 to repeal the 2010 Health Care Legislation. The law that we seek to repeal today, is not the best that we can do to provide cost effective, quality care for all Americans.
“I support enacting incremental reforms such as – enabling individuals to purchase coverage across state lines, allowing small businesses to pool together to purchase more affordable coverage, and prohibiting insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing conditions.
“I urge my colleagues to support HR 2. Let’s work together on reforms that truly reduce costs and provide quality care.”
And then I checked his Facebook page, where he, or at least someone on his staff, wrote: “Keeping a key campaign promise, I voted to repeal the Obama-Pelosi job-killing healthcare law today.”
Next, I checked Gabby Giffords Facebook page. Here’s what appears as part of her profile:
“This page is a forum to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing Southern Arizona and our nation as well as campaign activities. We ask that people maintain a tone of civility and respect with one another.”
Right. Exactly right.
You were close, Congressman Runyan. So very close. But civility isn’t a pick your spot principle.
What about it Representative Runyan? Care to take the pledge -- and keep it?
Kevin Shelly is an award-winning reporter and columnist.