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Sticks and stones: the case for civility in American political discourse

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Both newscasters were inquiring journalistic interrogators on and off the air, but as Shields declared, they “demanded and insisted upon a standard of civility in dialogue which permeates this whole show and has been the gold standard.”

Would that such a standard had been evident in the slashing debates and attack TV ads that have characterized our presidential election campaign so far. Republican presidential candidates have called each other names like “fake” and “narcissistic” and “unprincipled flip-flopper,” and the president a “snob” and “job killer” – and those are the mildest. President Obama, instead of remembering that he is president of all the people, has dismissed Republicans as responsible for almost every tribulation of his presidency.

American democracy is a beacon to millions around the world, but the character of the political system that gets us there must leave many onlookers agape. The presidential election goes on too long and is awash in too much money. The Republican debates have been too numerous, and not a clarification of policy, but of TV sound-bites, posturing, and party fratricide. Let us hope for more civility when the president and would-be president engage in debate after this endless run-up.

Despite the “gold standard” of the PBS NewsHour and fine reporting by some quality news organizations, my own profession of journalism does not emerge with totally clean hands.

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