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Late Night: A Plea for Less Civility in Politics

Before we begin, I just want to thank the members of the FDL community who came out to support the launch of my new book, Chicago’s Historic Irish Pubs, last Friday night. It was great meeting you and talking to you about our favorite places in America and Ireland to hoist a few and tell some stories.

Now, let’s discuss how we can be less nice to each other.

Less polite.


I spent last Thursday with the Wisconsin Assembly debate on the Screw the Workers We Don’t Need ‘Em Anyway Act on in the background while I worked, and as I listened to speeches by Republicans and Democrats I was struck by something.

These people were angry. They were hurt. They were unapologetic. They said things like “lies” and “hate” and “wrong” and “unjust.” They said these things loudly. They said them to the people they were saying them about. They made no apologies. They didn’t pretend to be friendly. They didn’t smile and nod and easily give way to the gentle lady from East This and That. They raged.

It was GLORIOUS. Look at Cory Mason up there. Listen.

For what it’s worth, look at Scott Fitzgerald here, ripping the Democratic Senators, 14 heroes all, for standing up for what they believe in, and in the process Fitzgerald’s revealing in no uncertain terms what he thinks:

“To the Senate Democrats: When you smile for the cameras today and pretend you’re heroes, I hope you look at that beautiful Capitol building you insulted. And I hope you’re embarrassed to call yourselves senators.”

What he thinks is repulsive, but at least he’s being straight about it. At least he’s being obvious. There’s no pretense to politeness. He hates you and he doesn’t mind telling you so, and at least you know.

We can’t make decisions about who best represents American values if everybody’s busy pretending they all really want the same things in the end. We can’t make choices about who we want to lead us if our candidates value being nice over being honest. And we can’t understand the consequences of politics when we act like politics is inconsequential.

These people, these Republicans in Wisconsin, hell these Republicans nationally, really are willing to tell the whole world to go to hell so that they can keep cutting taxes for the wealthy. Schoolteachers, firefighters, cops, ironworkers, steamfitters, farmers, they can all die early and poor, lest David Koch’s stock drop a quarter of a point. That deserves to be met not with bemused and polite opposition, but blistering outrage and sincere and vociferous contempt.

People are cynical about politics because they take their cues from the behavior of their leaders, and their leaders, who make their living in politics, appear determined to convince us all that politics is a dirty word. Politics isn’t something you should care about. Politics isn’t something you should raise your voice for. Politics is a big ironic joke, and really, it’s no big deal either way, so don’t get upset. Politics isn’t CIVIL.

Well, maybe it shouldn’t be. What happens as a result of political decisions isn’t civil. People starve in poverty. People die of preventable disease. People’s children are educated in schools with holes in the roof and chains the doors. Two unwinnable wars, scores of people dead, secret prisons, torture, indefinite detention, warrantless eavesdropping … because those things were done by men and women wearing suits and ties doesn’t make them any more rarefied than some protester yelling something mean.

When all the great pundits of our time get together and talk about how civility has vanished from American public life, they mean somebody like me said fuck on the Internet. They mean somebody at a MoveOn rally had a Hitler sign. They mean, hell, that somebody at a Tea Party rally had a Hitler sign. They’re all focused on what those of us out here are doing and saying, and not at all focused on what people in power are doing and saying.

I for one don’t deplore the combative tone of the Wisconsin State Legislature. I love it. Looking back at the past decade, looking back at the past four decades, I’m not sure our country can take much more civility.


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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.