Bradenton group asks: Political civility an oxymoron?

BRADENTON -- Politics isn’t known for having the most friendly environment.

But is the idea of political civility an oxymoron?

That was the topic Thursday afternoon as the Manatee Tiger Bay Club met at Pier 22.

Board member Ed Chiles moderated the panel consisting of Dan Miller, a former congressman and professor; Frank Alcock, associate professor of political science at New College; Chris Wille, editorial page editor of the Bradenton Herald; Richard O’Brien, chairman of the Manatee Democratic Party; and David Agee, Manatee Republican State Committeeman.

They each discussed the history of political civility and discussed how it has always been a part of the discourse in the country.

“The issue of civility, I don’t know if it is different than it was 200 years ago,” Chiles said. “Think about Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel.”

Others echoed stories of the country having a history of incivility by bringing up names that past presidents were called and quoting famous arguments. Factors such as the Internet and the power of unions and Super PACs were also brought up as things that fuel the country’s political discourse.

The panel’s diversity lent itself to various views on the issue, but mostly there was common ground.

“I am here to tell you civil politics is an oxymoron and a myth,” Agee said. “I believe that if you go back to our founding, you’ll find that we have never been a civil society, in terms of courtesy toward a political opponent.”

O’Brien countered that point.

“Just 15 years ago Ted Kennedy and Alan Simpson could sit down after vicious elections were over and hash out a budget that was good for the country,” O’Brien said. “Those days are gone.”

Questions and issues such as attack ads, term limits and the role of social media, among other topics, were also presented to the panel.

Those in attendance said they built a better understanding of the topic.

“It was an interesting discussion,” said Sharon O’Day, who said she got away that “constant campaigning is a big problem in civility,” along with candidates going to the extreme left or right in primaries, and then running to the middle for the general election.

“I think there is a lot of incivility and it’s something that seems to be a part of our culture.”