Civility: “Where Did We Go?”

I took the headline for this post from Tom Friedman’s op-ed column in the NYT yesterday, “Where Did We Go?” And Friedman indirectly touches on a theme that I have written about many times here: civility.

The mean-spirited nature of debate in this country — whether it is on cable TV or in the halls of Congress — is disturbing — and detracts from our ability to resolve some important issues.

Let’s face it. We’re a nation where we would much rather give someone the middle finger salute than a pat on the back. Too bad. Civility matters. Real friendships and relationships — not the Facebook and Twitter kind — matter.

OK. Back to Friedman.

He starts his column by looking back at an interview he had in Israel in 1995 with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — before Rabin was assassinated. Here’s from Friedman:

Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.

What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, “Should Obama be killed?” The choices were: “No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.” The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin.

Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.

Civility matters.


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