By J.L. Schmidt, Statehouse Correspondent, The Nebraska Press Association
Nebraskans have survived what has to be one of the meanest ever primary elections, fueled in large part by more than $3 million in campaign funds from organizations outside the state and from the personal coffers of several millionaires running for office.
The advertising in a six-man Republican gubernatorial primary and a four-man Republican U.S. Senate primary went negative early. Many of those TV and radio commercials and mass mailings were funded by Political Action Committees with agendas that would likely be a mystery to most Nebraskans. Images of President Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid flashed across TV screens night and day as each candidate seemed to say they were best suited to fight these national figures.
Confusing at best for a freshman political science student trying to understand what that would have to do with whoever occupies the second floor governor’s office in the northeast corner of the State Capitol. Probably incomprehensible for the typical Nebraskan working to keep food on the table and a roof overhead.
To say nothing of the definitions of candidates being touted as a Nebraska conservative, a real conservative or a true conservative in a state where many people would probably tell you straight up that they are personally conservative in not just their politics, but most of their lives. You don’t expect much more in a state where the nationally recognized college football team runs the ball straight at its opponents more often than not.
Quite frankly, in the aftermath of the barrage of printed and spoken words, most people don’t care if somebody is conservative or liberal anymore, as long as they are civil.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines civility as “civilized conduct; especially courtesy and politeness or a polite act or expression.” The late Rodney King, the Los Angeles construction worker who survived a beating during an arrest by four police officers that resulted in riots in 1991, put it best. “Can we all get along?” he asked after a trial in 1992.
That’s a good question for Nebraskans right now.
“Civility means a great deal more than just being nice to one another,” says P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University. “It is complex and encompasses learning how to connect successfully and live well with others, developing thoughtfulness, and fostering effective self-expression and communication. Civility includes courtesy, politeness, mutual respect, fairness, good manners, as well as a matter of good health. Taking an active interest in the well-being of our community and concern for the health of our society is also involved in civility.”
Way back when, the nation’s first president George Washington said, “Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.”
Forni adds that one should remember the power of words. “The thought that they might cause unnecessary hurt or discomfort should inform every conversation.” He adds, “respecting others’ opinions doesn’t mean abandoning your own.”
Singer, songwriter Emmylou Harris said, “we have to be more thoughtful and more educated and more informed. I turn on the TV and I see these grown people screaming at each other, and I think, well, if we don’t get our civility back, we’re in trouble.”
I also like what nationally syndicated columnist George Will has to say on the subject. “Taking offense has become America’s national pastime; being theatrically offended supposedly signifies the exquisitely refined moral delicacy of people who feel entitled to pass through life without encountering ideas or practices that annoy them.”
So, how about it Nebraska? Can we be civil as we head into the general election? I think we should try.