Health care reform and a plea for civility

James Newman, dressed as George Washington, shouts supports during a rally against health care reform proposals in Centennial Olympic Park. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

James Newman, a.k.a. George Washington, during a rally against health care reform proposals in Centennial Olympic Park. Brant Sanderlin, bsanderlin@ajc.com

We seem to have forgotten how to disagree without being disagreeable.

No punches were thrown at this weekend’s health care forums in metro Atlanta. But at U.S. Rep. David Scott’s event in Jonesboro, each side felt the need to bring its own posse to shout down the opposition.

Boos and hisses rose up from those against the several Democratic plans for health care reform in Congress. They were met with chants of “Yes, we can!” from proponents.

The event was held in a local high school, which only partially explains why the affair seemed more like a pair of competing pep rallies than an authentic discussion of the issue.

Immediately afterwards, in Centennial Park, firebrands stoked a Saturday afternoon crowd that had already made up its mind about changes to the nation’s health care system now contemplated in Washington.

They promised more confrontation. “We will not be quiet!” was one of many slogans tested for effect. Most of the signs carried by demonstrators spoke to the issue. One fellow was deliberately provocative. His read, “This time we didn’t bring our guns.”

At times, the angry words are enough to make you long for Richard Nixon and his Silent Majority.

At least one Republican thinks the harsh language and disruptions we’ve seen at town hall meetings across the country constitute a blunder — both moral and strategic — that could hurt the conservative cause in the long run.

Mark DeMoss is a conservative Southern Baptist whose Buckhead-based public relations firm serves evangelical organizations. He supported Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primary.

Earlier this year, he joined with Lanny Davis, a prominent Washington Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter, to form something called the Civility Project.

The rules, which can be found at civilityproject.org, are simple: “(1) I will be civil in public discourse and behavior; (2) I will be respectful of others, whether or not I agree with them; and (3) I will stand up and call out incivility whenever I see it.”

Three events pushed DeMoss toward a demand for better manners in politics. “I saw an awful lot of pretty ugly rhetoric directed at Mormons in general or Mitt Romney in particular, and then eventually at me — because I was helping a Mormon,” DeMoss said. “And a lot of it came from my own camp, from evangelicals.”

Then there was the November vote in California to ban gay marriage. “Because Mormons gave so much money in support of Proposition 8, you had these cases of gay activists vandalizing Mormon churches,” he said.

At the same time, DeMoss was put off by certain comments from conservatives following Barack Obama’s victory. “I didn’t vote for him, I don’t agree with him on much of anything, but I didn’t think it was right,” he said.

DeMoss knows that some conservatives will think him wimpish for urging politeness. But he assures those who disagree that civility and surrender are not the same.

As a rule, civility keeps you humble and clears your head. Incivility amounts to a display of contempt. And a lack of respect for one’s adversary is often the first step toward disaster. See “Custer, George Armstrong.”

DeMoss would add that rudeness in the health care debate, aside from making poor video, has struck many as weakness. “Is my case against it not strong enough on its merits, so that I’d have to stop it by disrupting meetings and causing chaos?” he posed. “That’s a sad admission.”

Then there is the question of — not karma, for DeMoss is a fervent Christian — but universal balance, let’s say. “It’s cliché to say what goes around comes around, but it sure does. I wouldn’t want these tactics used against me in a different administration, with a different goal in mind,” he said.

And while it shouldn’t bear mentioning, swastikas are beyond the pale — and everyone should say so, DeMoss said.

There are signs that other Republican leaders feel the same way. At that gathering in Centennial Park on Saturday, former House majority leader Dick Armey, the keynote speaker, shouted out to the crowd, “Did anybody tell you to be mean and rude?”

No, his audience shouted back.

In the last few days, many have made reference to the idyllic 1943 painting by Norman Rockwell, called “Freedom of Speech.” In it, a working man — who bears an ever-so-slight resemblance to a young Abraham Lincoln — nervously stands to make himself heard at a town hall meeting.

Nine faces appear in the painting. But only one figure is speaking. Everyone else has cocked an ear.

With freedom of speech comes the obligation to listen. Else we are left with nothing but the freedom to make noise.

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35 comments Add your comment

Bill White

August 16th, 2009
4:12 pm

Herman said that he invites liberals on his show all the time and they shout him down with baseless irrational “arguments.” It’s the far left that’s the problem here, not patriots voicing their disapproval about getting their freedom taken away. They want choose our doctors, decide to kill us either at old age or in the womb, take down our Commandments, surrender to the enemy and much more. This is a slippery slope created by the far left and this so-called leader who is failing miserably on all levels.

Jeff

August 16th, 2009
5:47 pm

First time I ever remember seeing an opinion piece from you, Jim, and I *LOVE* it!

MrPratt

August 16th, 2009
6:08 pm

Bill White – post at 4:12PM

Lets see…”patriots voicing their disapproval about getting their freedom taken away…” What freedom has been taken away by this session of congress? The Republican Congress from 2001 – 2006 took away a ton of your 4th Amendment rights. I fought the Republican commies as hard as I could on that one. But, alas, I had no help from my friends on the right. But if they are trying it again, let me know so I can join the battle.

“They want choose our doctors… All-right – we have that Socialist Medicare/Medicaid program in this country brought to you by both the left & the right. They choose your doctors? They don’t let you pick?
I didn’t know. You can blame Reagan on that, he put all Federal civilian employees on Medicare/Medicaid. That made Medicare legitimate.
If the program is OK by Mr. Conservative Republican, then it must be OK.

“…decide to kill us either at old age or in the womb…”
Please advise all of us who are your friends the name of the bill & the date it passed. And, if it has not passed, the name of the bill so we can all work to make sure it does not pass.

“…take down our Commandments…” Please sir, to what Commandments do you refer? If it is the Ten Commandments handed down to Moses, I kinda agree with you. I have a copy on my bedroom wall but no one has tried to take it down. And they better not try. I am armed.

“…surrender to the enemy…” I think I figured this one out. You are talking about George W Bush signing that agreement with the Iraq government saying that we will pull out all our combats troops in 2011.
I kinda agree with you. Sounds like surrender to me also, now that I think about it.

Thanks, I enjoyed the conversation.

Devildog

August 16th, 2009
7:18 pm

I guess civility went out the window when the Clintons brought James Carville to Washington. Things were nicer before he got there. But he’s a Marine and a brother, so I’ll just have to forgive him even though he spawned a mess.

A Real Patriot

August 16th, 2009
7:27 pm

It is people like Bill White and the “patriots” in the photo above that are the problem. Since when was implying death to our leaders patriotic? Since when was selling out to insurance companies and their propaganda patriotic? Anarchy is patriotic? The men in my family who served this country in times of war disagree. The bottom line is this: The insurance companies do not want to lose their stranglehold on our healthcare. They do not want competition. So they are spending billions of dollars to spread lies and hate mongering to prevent ant change.

They tell the masses that your rights are being threatened, and talk of death panels and such. In turn the masses panic and buy the lies. So now it’s okay for them to price gouge and pick and choose whom and what they will cover? Sounds like what they’re telling us to be afraid of.

Just pray that none of your loved ones is denied coverage because of deductables or “pre-existing conditions.” The insurance companies decide all of that. Where is the freedom and liberty in that?

unclefast

August 16th, 2009
7:33 pm

Devildog, I would disagree with you on who brought incivility to Washington. It was Newt Gingrich himself before Carville got there.

unclefast

August 16th, 2009
7:36 pm

A Real Patriot, I think you need to re-read Bill White’s post. He’s agreeing with you from what I can discern.

Dave

August 16th, 2009
8:01 pm

Lanny Davis calling for Civility is like a hooker calling for chasity. Two points, where ws the civitiy on the part of the left when George Bush was President? (do I need to name names, I think not) and 2, Barry and the congressional critters, aren’t listening, they didn’t want to hear (and still don’t for the matter) what these folks have to say, ergo what you’re seeing.

Bankerrkt

August 16th, 2009
9:02 pm

Perhaps the union thugs and paid Acorn members that have come to townhall meetings to disrupt and pick fights with seniors can give us some lessons on civility. LOL LOL LOL

Dave

August 16th, 2009
10:02 pm

unclefast – Newt brought intelligent discourse, but I understand how it’s beyond you to recognize it.

boots

August 16th, 2009
10:06 pm

There will never be a shortage of ignorant people who are willing to follow the deceptions of a demigogue.

retiredds

August 16th, 2009
10:07 pm

The anti health care group looks a lot like the tea party people. Makes sense to me that the conservatives all attend the same parties. Oh by the way, George Washington was a lot more distinguished looking than the gentleman (I’m trying to be nice here) in the picture above. Also if you know anything about GW, you can read it in historical biographies about him, his rule in any public gathering or confrontation with an opponent was civility.

FBHO

August 16th, 2009
10:19 pm

Why do you people have a problem with community organizers? Is it that tasting your own medicine is not a pleasureable experience?

Thogwummpy

August 16th, 2009
10:53 pm

Jim can kiss my….well; I’ll keep it “civil”. Looky boy-o; after decades of having liberals jabber that all conservatives are “Nazis” (even this last spate was begun by Pelosi’s reckless mouth), and watching tantrums everytime a conservative speaker attempts to talk at venues such as colleges [shall I direct you to the Columbia University attack of the Minuteman speaker on stage posted at YouTube)—-HOW DARE YOU LECTURE ANYBODY ON “CIVILITY”!!!!
Oh, and if any of you knew a thing about the National Socialists, you’d know their policies were for big government control and Leftist policies…in fact, Hitler was praised by Progressives for his New Deal before FDR began his…and Germany’s were far more socialist. Yet, conservatives…our brand cemented in personal liberty and limited government, we get called “fascists” by the Left. Odd. Danged odd. Don’t you talk civility whilst your Lefties deploy every sleazy discourtesy imagainable. Gee, wasn’t ACORN and SEIU thugs beating townhall protesters the other week? Yep. Again, check YouTube.

DaveDawg

August 16th, 2009
11:50 pm

Why is it that conservatives have always been on the wrong side throughout our country’s history? It’s because they’re always wrong.

A better name for this group would be gulibles, beause they always fall for the self-serving lies of the wealthy and thus wage their battles for them.

UGA75

August 17th, 2009
12:08 am

How can you tell a politician is telling a lie, his or her lips are moving. George Bush Jr. was the worst president in the history of this country and Obama is doing his best to be more terrible than Bush. It is a shame that there aren’t term limits on Congress where we could recycle the jerks pretending to serve their constituents while selling their respective votes to the highest bidders. Labels are useless, Republican nor Democrat means anything anymore in Washington. We appear to be angry with each other, look at the words above, but if every person examined their own hearts, the anger it and should be at those who supposedly represent us, no matter the Party they pay lip-service too.

BehindEnemyLines

August 17th, 2009
12:50 am

No obligation exists to listen,nor should it, when nothing worthwhile is being said.

Lowell

August 17th, 2009
2:49 am

I wonder why any sane, intelligent, reasonable person would subject himself/herself and a family to the abuse that goes with serving in Congress. It would be a tremendous sacrifice to have to put up with all that mess.

Dr. Craig Spinks /Augusta

August 17th, 2009
3:46 am

Is it coincidental that the words “civilization” and “civility” arise from the same root word?

Chris Mathews is covered in his own spittle

August 17th, 2009
5:36 am

Isn’t Lanny Davis one of the ones that ran the bimbo eruption operation for BJ Clinton? Wasn’t he the first one to call all the women that Clinton raped/molested, trailer trash. I agree with the earlier poster, “Lanny Davis calling for civility is like a hooker calling for chasity.” Indeed!

Gretchen

August 17th, 2009
6:25 am

Now that this radical, socialist health care experiment seems to be dead, we can start working to repeal the other socialist entitlements: medicare and social security! Let’s give everyone the opportunity to be part of the market-driven health care system. Capitalism is America!

clyde

August 17th, 2009
6:36 am

Never mind civility,let’s rumble.

fromatl1

August 17th, 2009
6:58 am

I was very optimistic when the bright young Harvard Grad was elected as President. He would bring some of the innovative ideas from Harvard Law school and help our country out. So I’m assuming they are teaching a course in “Cash for Clunkers 101″ at Harvard and his negotiation approach to conflict “How to host a beer summit 101″. Now he’s taking a stab at a real issue, our health care. Wow his Harvard education is serving him well. I didn’t think it could get any worse than the Texan but guess I was wrong.

Rodney K.

August 17th, 2009
7:16 am

Can’t we all just get along?

clyde

August 17th, 2009
7:42 am

fromatl1,

I’ve seen a lot of bright grads come into industry,many with great ideas.Eventually a lot of them go on to do great things,but they are usually miserable failures in their beginning attempts.Very few are given a chance to start at the top and work their way down like Obama.That’s because the leaders of industry know that neophytes make costly mistakes and their beginning assignments are usually where they can’t do a great deal of harm.

Lucas

August 17th, 2009
9:05 am

Hey – I agree with Jeff, Jim. Your stuff is always a delight to read. Nice work.

Bill30097

August 17th, 2009
9:35 am

DeMoss is what used to be called “useful idiots”. I agree with the earlier poster, “Lanny Davis calling for civility is like a hooker calling for chasity.” Indeed! Lanny Davis is one of the most mean-spirited vicious people to ever be involved in government. Unless, like Charles Colson, he has apologized for running a smear campaign against people like Kathleen Willey, he has zero credibility.

Why after Republicans have endured decades of name calling, when they finally respond in kind is there this sudden call for civility. It is like when a schoolyard bully has the big brother of one of his victims turn the tables and says we should get along peacefully. When big brother is gone the bully will revert to his old ways.

Zeke

August 17th, 2009
10:02 am

The sweet voice of reason. Thanks Jim.
Civility is the binding force that holds societies together. If it is lost to the mob mentality, we are all lost.

Jack Carroll

August 17th, 2009
10:20 am

I realize being rude and loud does not help ones cause but Mr Galloway can you not see the frustration the people have? We are talking and calling but our elected officials just are not listening to us. Then when they do get a chance, face to face, the only thing that gets thier attention is being loud. If you cannot understand this then you surely do not see both sides of the issue. IT IS FRUSTRATION, and they are still not listening. There are going to be a lot of politicians not going back to Washington after the next election. The large majority of the public does not want Obama’s healthplan, & if you read it you will not either. No, I have not read the whole thing and doubt if anyone else has but I have seen enough to know this is not the best thing for the American people.

tj griswold

August 17th, 2009
10:58 am

no conservative southern should support romney. i will be respectful when i need be, but the liberals will walk all over us because of it. they send out thugs to rally’s to beat people up, and they are funded by notoriously evil people who will stop at nothing to destroy the constitution and our way of life with the “nanny state” they want.

Ga-Guy

August 17th, 2009
11:13 am

Well said, Mr. Galloway. Bob Barr’s column today follows the same line of reasonable thinking in his assessment of the current state of the broadcast news media.

Nick

August 17th, 2009
12:10 pm

Jim
Your post was thoughtful and well put. However, from reading the comment section no one took your point to heart. We should be passionately discussing how to reform health care, just without shouts, threats, and rants from both sides. I’m just not holding my breath it will happen anytime soon.

someareidiots

August 17th, 2009
12:48 pm

Manners and civility come from home training. It is obvious none of of the loud mouths read or heard of Emily Post.

Chris Mathews is covered in his own spittle

August 17th, 2009
3:14 pm

Yeah, someareidiots. Those libs that used to burn Bush in efigy, burn the flag, call Bush Hitler are truly rude. Jumbo Galloway has his head in his sizeable arse. Where is the out rage over Obama’s Union Thugs that beat up that black conservative in MO over healthcare? The libs are getting a dose of their own medicine and can’t handle it.

[...] has teamed with Lanny Davis, a prominent Washington Democrat and Hillary Clinton supporter, to form something called the Civility Project. It is not going [...]