Thursday, January 29, 2009

Civil Discourse Defended (Ethan & Micah are Wrong)

Recently, Ethan Millard's SLCSPIN and Micah Bruner's DeathKnell have published blog articles critical of a recent call for "civil discourse" in a Salt Lake Tribune editorial. I respectfully disagree with both Ethan and Micah on this issue.

In the case of Micah, I believe that he is misreading the article due to the fact that he was primed to do so by first reading Ethan's blog alleging that the call represented an effort to "coerce" civil discourse. In the case of Ethan, I believe that he is misreading the intentions of the vast majority of people in and out of office who call for civil discourse, because he sees such efforts as being an attempt by public officials to "escape questions and conversations that may be uncomfortable for them."

I personally have never heard nor read of any effort to "coerce civil discourse" by anyone accused of so doing by Ethan, and I see nothing in the Tribune editorial as advocating such. In my opinion, the people who could rightfully feel targeted and insulted by the paper's call for civility are the very political officials serving in the Legislature that Ethan believes want to deflect scrutiny by issuing the said call themselves. And, what I suspect is causing the perception difference between myself, and at least Micah, concerning the issue of legislatively coercing civility is the following line from the article:

". . . From passing well-crafted laws to shrinking Utah's religious divide to making sure people of all races, ethnicities, religions, ages, incomes, political parties and physical abilities are heard and represented. . . ."

From what he has written in the comment section of his blog, I suspect that Micah is interpreting this line as being a call for the Legislature to pass well-crafted laws mandating civil conduct in the future. But, my reading of it (in context) persuades me that, far from advocating future legislation to coerce civility from the public, it is actually the Tribune criticizing the Legislature for allegedly contributing to the current culture of incivility by making the following mistakes in the past:

  1. Passing poorly crafted laws and contributing to the religious divide. (I see this as being a reference to Utah's supposedly oppressive liquor laws, or anything else that appears to favor the Mormon majority at the expense of everyone else.)

  2. Preventing people of all races, ethnicities, religions, ages, incomes, political parties and physical abilities from being heard and represented. (Again, I see this as being a jab at the practice of the Republican delegation of holding closed caucus meetings where the real work supposedly gets done out of the public view, or government officials allegedly meeting with the Mormon Brethren to obtain their marching orders.)

Because I am a conservative, white, male, Mormon, Republican, I am not too critical of the Legislature. I feel represented well. But, some folks at the Tribune and elsewhere seem to have another opinion, believing that the Legislature has helped to cultivate the current climate of incivility by its alleged misbehavior. Thus, that is how I interpret this particular line from the editorial.

The authors apparently believe, beyond the general need for all of us to be more civil, that the Legislature should also embrace this call by making itself more friendly to diverse views. I do not agree, necessarily, with everything the Tribune would endorse along those lines. But, I will certainly defend that paper against any accusation that its call for civil discourse is actually an attempt to shield public servants from scrutiny. (Not that Ethan is attacking the paper as much as he is attacking in broad terms the call for civil discourse.) The Tribune is in the business of providing thorn-in-the-side scrutiny. I do not believe that it now seeks to do otherwise.

In the opinion of many of us who routinely call for such, civil discourse is actually the key to increasing scrutiny of public officials. Too often in our world, too many of us try to pass off hit and run insults and accusations as political commentary and analysis. For me, a call for civility is not an attempt to muzzle tough questions, but rather a call for even more questions, more thoughtfully asked, more responsibly answered, and more objectively reported.

I feel very strongly about this issue. I hope that Ethan and Micah (two of my favorite and most respected bloggers) will reconsider their attack on this call for civil discourse. And, I praise all those who are nobly seeking to promote civility within our community.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Goodbye, Mr. President.

Yesterday, the same day that President George W. Bush delivered his farewell address, it was reported in the media that his popularity in this state had finally dropped below 50%. That's too bad. For the record, I would like to say that I have only come to appreciate him more.

I love him. I consider him to be a fine man. And, I am grateful for his service to our nation.

I have been moved by the dignity with which he has conducted himself as his popularity has plummeted, his name reviled, and his character assassinated. I have learned a great deal from his example. And, I have been proud of the class he has demonstrated during the transition to the Obama administration -- providing access and support to the incoming president that has been nothing less than extraordinary. Maybe someday the world will come to truly understand who this man is, and what he had done for all of us, but I don't plan on holding my breath.

Goodbye, Mr. President. May God bless you!