Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bonanza Column 158 - Civility

I've written before in this column lamenting the tendency in local political discourse to attack and demonize individuals rather than sticking to the merits of the issues. Often this is because the side being advocated has fewer merits, but sometimes it just seems mean-spirited and weak.

The assumption seems to be that if you disagree with me about something you are attacking me personally, and so I have full license to attack you in kind. Except it's not in kind. I say I disagree with your position on, say, what kind of signage is appropriate to the scenic quality of the area, and you respond by calling into question my morals, ethics, parentage, and patriotism.

We see this on the National scale and in my view, no matter which side is doing it, it's reprehensible. It was no more right to call George W. Bush "the boy emperor" (Maureen Dowd) than it is to call Barack Obama "the man-child president." (Rush Limbaugh). But at least on the National political level it is distant and about people we know about, but we don't know personally.

When it becomes local, I think it's particularly pernicious. We live in a small community – about 9000 people, only about half of whom are here all year-round, and only a small fraction of whom are active in local politics and issues debates. These are people we know, we go to church with, we see if not daily, then often. What is the point of personal attacks? If you are strongly for local modification of nuisance laws and someone else is strongly against it, is it not more productive to listen to each other and maybe even learn from each others' views than to cut off the conversation because of a personal attack?

Recently this already lamentable situation has sunk to a new level. I'm not going to be specific here to avoid further embarrassment to the parties, but in a hotly contested local debate, one party has been heard to making charges based on aspects of another party's personal life. The first person claims that the personal allegations are relevant to the public matter, but that claim is dubious at best, particularly since it requires drawing some conclusions from the personal matters that are very, very questionable.

I'm sorry to be so cryptic, but I want to call out the nastiness of the matter without adding fuel to the matter itself. It's not even an issue of whether the charges are accurate or the conclusions warranted, it's a matter of decency and propriety. Time and again, including in my own campaign for IVGID Trustee (which I regret mightily), I've seen people who had the courage and commitment to take on a potentially controversial public issue subjected to name-calling, personal attacks, and rumor campaigns that I believe have no place in any public debate, and even more so when the issues are purely local to our community.

We are entering another election season as recent columns by Jim Clark and I attest. On the principle of "think globally, act locally," I wonder if we could take on, as a community, raising the standard of discourse to a higher level of civility. Maybe if we do, it will catch on and spread to the state level in California and Nevada and who knows? Maybe from there even to the national level. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of the shouting, the vilifying, the name-calling on both sides of the political debate. Let's make IVCB an island of civility in the political arena – if we do, I promise to use my national platform on Huffington Post to spread the word and try to ignite a national movement toward greater civility.

And in the interests of civility, the following: I got a call last Thursday from County Commissioner John Breternitz regarding my column last week on the "local determination" aspect of the County Nuisance Ordinance. John told me one thing I didn't know and haven't heard from anyone up here, namely that the consideration of a local option did not apply to all communities in the County, but to Incline only. John was uneasy about it on constitutional grounds from the start and felt that it would set the County up for a lawsuit. I can't disagree with him on that – I thought it was for the whole County, and would have felt as John does if I'd known. He also clarified that his comment about "broad community support" was meant to indicate the local community, not the County as a whole. Finally, John told me that he is trying to find a way to get a good gauge on public opinion up here – he had very little input on the nuisance issue, even after he asked for input, and really wants to know what people in IVCB think, which I think is commendable.

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