Can We Be Civil, Please? Restoring Civility To Public Dialogue
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Aired 4/5/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.
Guests: Carl Luna, professor of political science, San Diego Mesa College
Tom Shepard, San Diego Political Consultant
Special Feature KPBS Election Coverage
SAN DIEGO From squabbling, name calling and attack ads in the presidential race to condescension and mockery at San Diego mayoral debates, it seems clear that politics is becoming less and less civil.
To help counteract this trend, San Diego Mesa College professor Carl Luna will moderate San Diego’s 1st Annual Community Conference on Restoring Civility to Civic Dialogue at the University of San Diego.
Luna told KPBS that part of the incivility problem is our increasingly polarized society.
“When you polarize and no longer trust the other side, you don't respect them, people calling George Bush a fascist during his reign, people calling Barack Obama a communist, we don't have fascists and communists here," he said. "But that sort of discussion really polarizes the debate, and you can't meet in the midterm and figure out how to move forward on issues we need to move forward on.”
Political consultant Tom Shepard, who is running Nathan Fletcher’s mayoral campaign, said the danger of this incivility is that it makes fewer people want to vote, which then only adds to the problem.
“Declining participation rates accelerate the problem to the extent that the more moderate voices decide simply not to engage, not to participate," he said. "It leaves the arena to those on the most extreme edges of the left and the right. And that's part of the reason why we're seeing this increase in partisanship nationwide.”
Luna said in the San Diego mayor's race, while some candidates have made negative statements about each other, they have so far remained "relatively civil."
"I think as you get closer to the June primary, you might see a tendency toward negativity going up, and in the fall election that could be an issue," he said. "We'd like San Diegans to say, look, all of our candidates want a better city, let's debate the issues about what will make it a better city, and stay away from the personal attacks, they don't help the dialogue."
While Fletcher's campaign painted his decision to leave the Republican party as a reflection of this negativity, Luna said other pundits say it was "political triangulation."
"It was probably a little of each," Luna said. "But bottom line, Republican and Democrat as a brand have lost a lot of their luster because elected officials simply can't get together, be it locally and nationally, and reach the compromise a lot of people in American and in San Diego know we need to have."
The conference on civility will be Monday from 9 a.m. to noon at the University of San Diego. It’s free to anyone who wants to attend. Register here.