The candidates have entered the home stretch, and few people could be happier about the proximity of the end than residents of Ohio. We're all looking forward to being able to watch the Browns lose without being interrupted by back to back to back SuperPAC spending. I'm not sure what happens in other states, but here, it goes beyond radio and television. At a party last weekend, the tunes on Pandora were interspersed with messages about the importance of somebody's China policy. Ask any Ohioan and there's a good chance you'll be told we want an end to the political ads. But that's only part of what Ohio wants.
Earlier this week, about 80 citizens from near Akron came together to talk about something simple and strangely elusive: civility. The Akron Beacon Journal and their partners at the University of Akron's Bliss Institute of Applied Politics have been engaging the community in an ongoing conversation about the relative incivility of the political speech raining down on Ohio, most recently by rating the public political statements of candidates. (I blogged about this a couple of months back.) Over the course of the evening, these citizens -- schoolteachers, lawyers, software developers, social workers, pastors, and students -- took on a simple question: How can we change the way people and leaders talk to one another? I'm fairly certain that's not a question Governor Romney or President Obama will consider tonight, but it's a question swing state voters are asking themselves. And when they asked that question this week, they came up with some particular ideas for what they might do.
1. Create a code of civil behavior for candidates, and tie contributions to campaigns that strive for civility
2. Create a clear civility standard or pledge for entire community to endorse
3. Gather in diverse groups to watch debates then practice civil discourse afterwards
4. Design a media campaign for civility
5. Compile a civility scale and publish as an endorsement for civility
Among those who read this, there will be many who think of this as a handful of hokey ideas from Midwesterners who just don't understand that politics is a dirty business. Believe me. We understand all too well. We've seen corruption and mudslinging up close. One of the most respected members of Ohio's Congressional caucus just put his re-election bid on ice because he's done with the partisan rancor and paralysis. And when the ABJ asked both Senator Sherrod Brown and his opponent Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel if they would consider toning down the campaign rhetoric, both the Democrat and the Republican responded with a "no thanks." We get it quite clearly.
At the event, I talked to an 11-year-old boy who had dragged his mother along. They'd been talking about political speech in his social studies class, he told me, and he was trying to understand better what civil dialogue means. At the end of the meeting, he came up to me to share with me the notes that he'd been taking on his mother's iPhone, and here's the thing I realized in talking to him. This question -- how can we change the way people and leaders talk to one another? -- it's not just a question voters are asking. It's a frame that many are using to see and understand this world we live in. And it's a frame that can change how the world works.
So, what does Ohio want? I guess it's a form of change.