Mark DeMoss, director of the Civility Project, a two-year-old effort launched at the beginning of the Obama presidency to prompt legislators across the nation to cool political rhetoric, decided to shut the campaign down earlier this month -- even before the latest resurgence of debate about "vitriol" and rhetoric sparked by the events in Arizona over the weekend.
DeMoss, an evangelical conservative with ties to some big-name Republicans, cited a general lack of interest, as well as pervading signs that the nature of political discourse appeared only to be deteriorating during Obama's first two years as president, as justifications for halting his program.
In a recent interview with The New York Times, DeMoss provided a little insight about how his project was received by some on the right.
"The worst e-mails I received about the civility project were from conservatives with just unbelievable language about communists, and some words I wouldn't use in this phone call," DeMoss told The Times. "This political divide has become so sharp that everything is black and white, and too many conservatives can see no redeeming value in any liberal or Democrat. That would probably be true about some liberals going the other direction, but I didn't hear from them."
The pledge he sent to 585 sitting representatives, senators and governors in early 2009, asking them to sign on to the project's three tenets, was simple:
I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.
I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.
I will stand against incivility when I see it.
Yet two years after the launching of the initiative, he had only three signatures: Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Reps. Frank Wolfe (R-Va.) and Sue Myrick (R-N.C.).
"You three were alone in pledging to be civil," wrote DeMoss in a release this month announcing the closure of the group. "I must admit to scratching my head as to why only three members of Congress, and no governors, would agree to what I believe is a rather low bar."
While the lack of positive response appears to have been disheartening to DeMoss, he refrained from suggesting that there was any connection between increasingly contentious political discussions and the devastating violence in Arizona over the weekend.
"Whether or not there's violence, whether or not incivility today is worse than it's been in history, it's all immaterial," he told The Times. "It's worse than it ought to be."
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