Let’s hear it for civility — and partisanship.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has called on Jewish and pro-Israel groups to pledge that they will resist the coarsening trend in politics and public debate. “Community events and public discussions are often interrupted by raised voices, personal insults, and outrageous charges,” reads the statement. “Such incivility serves no purpose but to cheapen our democracy.” Signers must pledge to “uphold the basic norms of civil discussion and debate at our public events. We do this not to stifle free expression of views, but rather to protect it.”
In the age of the attack ad and the cable-news shoutfest, a little civility can go a long way.
But civil discourse should not signal the end of impassioned debate. We all need to listen more, but we also need to stand up for our principles, and speak truth to power.
For all the hoopla over Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” there was a sense that civility won out over the sharp distinctions that make politics, and voting, meaningful. On the eve of Election Day, Stewart treated our degraded public discourse as a creation of the media and downplayed the real and deep differences Americans have over policy and ideology. As Marc Tracy put it in Tablet, “Moderation is neither good nor bad: Certain people are right about things, and certain other people are wrong about those things, and how moderate they are has zero bearing on how right or wrong they are.”
Immoderate people are having a real influence on society today, whether the subject is the economy, health care, or Israel. The counter-voices must be heard.
Civility is a value, but so is political passion. Responsible citizenship demands that we exhibit both.