Politicians, asked to be civil, say 'No thanks'

In a disheartening coincidence, the man who began The Civility Project decided just days before the shootings in Tucson, Ariz., to disband his effort to get politicians to promise to restrain their speech.

The Civility Project had a simple pledge, which read: "I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior. I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them. I will stand against incivility when I see it."

And Mark DeMoss, a Republican and a prominent evangelical Christian from Atlanta, had asked members of Congress and the nation's governors to sign it.

But, after two years and $30,000 in expenses, only three had: Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and two Republican House members.

Neither Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley nor any member of the Maryland delegation to Congress signed.

The pledge seems, as Mr. DeMoss described it himself, "a rather low bar." But not only could he not get politicians on board, he told The New York Times, but some of the worst e-mails, written in language he would not repeat, came from conservatives.

Liberals, he said, may have had just as poisonous a reaction, "but I didn't hear from them."

It could be that Mr. DeMoss, who was an aide to the Rev. Jerry Falwell and whose public relations company represents the Rev. Franklin Graham, is just too radioactive — despite the fact that he teamed with Lanny Davis, a Jew and an aide to former President Bill Clinton, in the project.

Or perhaps each of the 585 politicians who received his request feared he or she would be the only one to sign, or that signing would be an indication of weakness.

I am thinking that he should have mailed the pledge to Rush Limbaugh, to Sarah Palin or circulated it at Fox News or at a tea party get-together to see if he could throw a blanket over those smoldering words, but that's just me.

After all, despite some notable exceptions — especially among the ranks of tea-party-backed hotheads — members of Congress tend to avoid incendiary remarks; that's why Rep. Joe Wilson caused such a stir when he yelled "You lie!" during a presidential address on health care.

But the timing of Mr. DeMoss' decision, coming as it did just as President Barack Obama was flying to Arizona to eulogize a little girl who believed in the best of America, is a blow. The president was asking us to live up to her vision of us, and Mr. DeMoss was providing proof that we have no intention of committing to do so.

It appears that Jared Lee Loughner, who is accused of killing six people, including 9-year-old Christina Taylor Green, and wounding 14 more, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, may be completely deranged. He may not have been pushed to do what he did by any voices but those in his own head.

But let me ask you this: What will happen to us if the people who aren't crazy refuse to be civil to each other?

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her e-mail is susan.reimer@baltsun.com.

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