Political Vitriol vs Civil Debate

A few weeks ago former Missouri Senator (and Episcopal clergyman) John Danforth addressed folks at the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City. Here is the way that his speech started:
A few months ago, Rush Limbaugh said he hoped President Obama fails. If the President fails, the nation fails, and people now suffering in our economy will suffer even more. While I don’t agree with the President on important issues, I hope he succeeds. I hope he is right and I am wrong, and I pray for him and for his success.

Limbaugh’s tone isn’t unique. It’s an example of today’s political discourse. Sure of their own opinions, some think that opposing views are worse than error. For them, opponents are demonic. Turn on cable news and listen for as long as you can stand it. They’re called “talking heads,” but they are shouting heads. On the left, there’s MSNBC. On the right, Fox News.
Joe Scarborough (i.e. Morning Joe) has also been talking about this idea of political tone saying that we need the tone as well as the conservatism of Ronald Reagan. Here are a few blips from Danforth's speech that speaks to this issue of tone:
  • Hot button politics serves two purposes: It creates a rabidly loyal following, and it turns complex subjects into short bursts of frenzy.
  • Political extremes can bring success.
  • Stoking anger is easier than serious thinking. It takes but a few highly charged words to switch attention from big issues to fleeting passion.
  • The message is, “I know God’s truth, I am on God’s side. You are an enemy of God.” There’s an Armageddon quality to much in politics.
  • Nothing is more divisive than the claim that you are on God’s side.
Danforth begins to end his message by saying:

You bring together people, ideas and perspective so that civil debate is possible. You create ground for adversaries with strongly held views to meet with mutual respect, even if not with agreement. You create a place for debate. But it isn’t a battlefield, and it isn’t Armageddon.
I strongly support this idea of having civil discourse and debate. I guess it is why I do not like the vitriol often presented by the squawk television and radio entertainers. I think it is why I like the round-table formats of some of the talk shows.. these venues seem to present diverse views by a wide variety of people.


  1. I have so much respect for Senator Danforth; he definitely kept a strong hold on his background as an Episcopal clergyman and his faith when he was here in Washington. I also appreciate you sharing his comments; I don't agree with the President's policies, but I don't want him to fail - that's why we have elections, to replace officials with whom we disagree.

    The atmosphere here is really bad, and I'm glad I no longer work on the Hill side of things. It was deteriorating when I was there, but now it's horrible and I don't know how it can get better. Maybe Senator Danforth should come do a bipartisan congressional retreat to get them to focus on what's really important.

  2. I am of the strong opinion that there can be no civil debate between two parties who speak two different languages. the entire exercise is 'spent' on cultural nuances of interpretation. It's no different between conservatives and progressives. Progressives have, by definition, used progressive thinking to redefine terms, both cultural and constitutional. This is particularly evident when it comes to any moral issues. Take the term 'marraige' for instance ...

  3. You may be right Ken.. I may be naive in thinking that there are folks of good will in our govt.. even if the airways is filled with bad will. Maybe we need to elect a few more Danforths?

  4. It depends on how you define "good will" ... :)

  5. Good Will = John Danforth

    Howz that for a definition :)

  6. I agree. I get tired of the vitriol from Olbermann, Maddow, and Matthews.


  7. I disagree, respectfully (he, he), with the good senator. If Obama fails to enact his economy-crushing policies, the economy will benefit. It would, therefore, be a good thing for him to fail in that sense. I don't think Obama is evil, but I definitely think he is wrong and putting us on the path towards European-style stagnation.


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