When I stumbled across the news item yesterday of the founding of the Civil Discourse Institute being founded in Arizona, I was sure that I was reading one of Iowahawk’s brilliant satires. It has all the elements of a sendup, including honorary co-chairs Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. What, is Bush going to refrain from his worst epithet of the 1992 campaign–calling Al Gore “ozone man”? That was some really rough stuff. And about Clinton’s civility, well. . .
But wait. Where is David Gergen? Can any mushy enterprise like this be complete without David Gergen? The person of whom the late Michael Kelly wrote so accurately: “To be Gergenized is to be spun by the velveteen hum of this soothing man’s smoothing voice into a state of such vertigo that the sense of what is real disappears into a blur.” He must have been busy this week. And where are the “No Labels” folks? It is the height of incivility not to include them. There’s an obvious new cure for insomnia: a panel discussion between the Civil Discourse Institute and No Labels. I nominate David Brooks to moderate.
We really are a bunch of wimps these days if we aren’t able to put our differences in spirited language. Churchill used to say that he liked people who grin when they fight, and the scene of the prime minister’s “question time” in the House of Commons is certainly a spectacle of “incivility” by American standards. Needless to say, there is virtually no one on the left (except for Jon Stewart, who often zings liberals) who has the zest and twinkle of Rush Limbaugh. What’s really going on here is the tacit demand by the left, steadily losing arguments and political ground, that conservatives unilaterally disarm.
This won’t be the last sanctimonious effort by our betters to hector Americans to “improve” their discourse or change their “consciousness.” I was reminded of a feminist effort in the mid-1980s to found a national think tank advocacy organization, the Sisterhood Is Global Institute. The launch in 1984 had all the high-profile trappings–Jesse Jackson showed up, natch, along with Gloria Steinem, etc.
It was never heard from again. (Though it still exists, somehow.)
The Civil Discourse Institute won’t be heard from again either, though I’m sure CDs of their meetings will make great premium gifts on PBS and NPR pledge drives.
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