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Civility doesn’t ignore lies

In a recent Facebook posting, former governor Sarah Palin accuses President Obama of having abandoned his commitment to civility:

In his speech the President directly responded to concerns I’ve raised about unelected bureaucrats being given power to make decisions affecting life or death health care matters. He called these concerns “bogus,” “irresponsible,” and “a lie” — so much for civility. After all the name-calling, though, what he did not do is respond to the arguments we’ve made, arguments even some of his own supporters have agreed have merit.

Here is the portion of the President’s address to Congress on September 9th that she appears to be referring to:

“Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost.  The best example is the claim made not just by radio and cable talk show hosts, but by prominent politicians, that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens.  Now, such a charge would be laughable if it weren’t so cynical and irresponsible.  It is a lie, plain and simple. “

I believe that Governor Palin has the same false idea about civility that I’ve seen from people from across the political spectrum. That civil people never bring up uncomfortable issues or challenge the factual claims of others.

What civility is about is making sure that when you’re discussing issues that you stick to facts and behaviors and that you avoid demonizing your opponent.

In the case of the President’s remarks above, he is describing behaviors –“spread by those whose only agenda is to kill reform at any cost” and facts — There are no panels established in HR 3200 to kill off senior citizens.

It might help you understand the difference between what is civil and what is not if I rewrote the President’s paragraph in a non-civil way:

“Some of people’s concerns have grown out of bogus claims spread by greedy and evil people who could care less about the poor and vulnerable.  Whackjobs like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are saying that we plan to set up panels of bureaucrats with the power to kill off senior citizens.  If we listen to such evil and greedy people whose only concern is for their corporate masters, then America will get what it deserves.”

See the difference? One way attacks false claims and the other way attacks people’s character.

Being civil isn’t a contract to avoid calling people out when they make false claims. But it is a promise to focus on the lies/misinterpretations and not attack the intrinsic character of the person.

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7 Responses

  1. Couldn’t have written it better myself. Thanks, AL.

  2. Well- stated, AK Librarian!

    I am enjoying your Constitutional Mondays, too. I am sharing them with my classes. Thanks.

  3. Thank you for this post!

    I don’t know if it would fit under “Rhetoric 101” or “Basics of Debate.” In either case, it was lovely to read these words!

    Thanks again
    Nan

  4. Thank you your kind words. I’m sorry for the delay in posting your comments, but I’ve been down with the H1N1 flu since last Friday and my fever finally broke this morning.

  5. HistoryGoddess – I’m very happy to hear that you’re enjoying my Constitutional Monday’s enough to share them with your classes.

  6. Being civil might also be not running to your enemies and bad mouthing your own country and allies.

  7. Hi Norma,

    Do you have some examples of this kind of behavior with quotes and sources?

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