Civility Asleep

04/10/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

To declare the death of civility is, at least at this point, too dramatic and apocalyptic. The time might come, however, in which its death in the American political arena could happen. Thus, President Obama's plea at last week's prayer breakfast for those who believe in prayer to also believe in treating each other in the political arena with at least a degree of civility, respect, and decency.

It is fair to say that, at this moment, civility is asleep. How else can we explain over-the-top allegations that the president is a socialist, or worse, when nothing he has done has even the taint of socialism. His economic steps are either a continuation of Bush policies or investments to stimulate job creation and recovery. How does calling this socialism advance any healthy agenda?

Some conservatives claim that ridiculous charges against Obama are no worse than liberal or left charges against Bush. There is a small measure of truth in that. As much as I disagreed with cutting taxes of the wealthy, especially in war time, the invasion of Iraq, deregulation of environmental safety, and letting Wall Street loose to create its own ruin, I don't remember questioning President Bush's patriotism or good intentions. Others in my party did, however, and carried on ridicule of his military service well after it made any point.

But at its worst, I don't recall any respectable figures on the progressive side suggesting Bush was a fascist, the rough equivalent of Obama's alleged socialism. There will always be those on both extremes who substitute ridicule and attack for constructive criticism. And perhaps human nature is always thus. Historians remind us of other bitter times in American political history when similar or worse behavior went on.

It, nevertheless, is a matter for hope that leaders of both sides and both parties will call out the extremists in their own ranks and disavow their conduct. Probably won't happen, because too many politicians think they need this radical energy bordering on hatred at election time. But miracles do happen and men and women of good will, reaching across the aisle, even occasionally applauding presidential state of the nation speeches out of respect and civility, could reawaken it. Or at the very least, they could create an example of civil leadership for us all.

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