Thank goodness for the Maine Incivility Project.
With all the talk about incivility sparked by the media’s determination to blame a madman’s shooting rampage on Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and the Tea Party, it rapidly became evident that civility is a somewhat elusive concept. For example, while shouting “You lie!” at the President while he is speaking is definitely uncivil, arguing that the President was really foreign born isn’t—it’s stupid, but not uncivil. Calling Rush Limbaugh “a Big, Fat, Idiot” in the title of your book, as Sen. Al Franken did, is uncivil, as is calling Nancy Pelosi “the Wicked Witch of the West,” as Rush Limbaugh did. Using cross-hairs to designate Democratic House seats that Republicans are “gunning for'”, “targeting” or “taking aim at”, on the other hand, is not uncivil…just unsettling if one is metaphor-challenged or hoplophobic (having a pathological fear of guns.)
Never fear, however. Before the echoes of President Obama’s call for Americans to come together had barely faded, the public got a handy lesson from the Governor of Maine about what incivility sounds like, as his term launches the new Maine Incivility Project. Newly-elected Governor Paul LePage—yes, a Tea Party-supported candidate—declined N.A.A.C.P. invitations to attend a dinner on Sunday night and a breakfast in on Monday to honor Martin Luthor King Day, saying, charmingly, “I’m not gonna’ be held hostage by any special interest. And if they want, they can look at my family pictures. My son happens to be black [LePage’s son is adopted from Jamaica]. The fact of the matter is, there are only so many hours in the day, so many hours in the week and so much that you can do.”
The N.A.A.C.P.’s state director said the organization felt it was being neglected by the new governor, and LePage responded: “Tell them to kiss my butt.”
That, class, is incivility.
Governor LePage is evidently not a practitioner of civility; he made news in his campaign last fall when he told a group of fishermen that if he were elected, “you’re going to be seeing a lot of me on the front page, saying ‘Governor LePage tells Obama to go to hell.'” The problem with leaders who do comprehend the need for civility is that it usually is linked to a deficit in related ethical values, like fairness, decorum, patience, respect, dignity, empathy, and kindness. The advantage of the new Maine Incivility Project is that Governor LePage will not only periodically clarify what real incivility is, he will also show Americans what the tendency to be uncivil leads to, and why civility is considered one of the cornerstones of ethics.
This is not going to be pleasant for Maine, I suspect, and it will end badly for Governor LePage. It will be educational, however.