The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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Shrimp 'n Grits

Broken civility and demise of common courtesy
Lee Walton

Now that the citizens of the Lowcountry have suffered through another election cycle, it's time again to reflect upon how much further the political campaign tactic of personal destruction has progressed and why we, as the electors of those we have chosen to lead, have become further and further detached from the political process. The disturbing growth of incivility among individual candidates and local party leaders reflects a growing breakdown in civil norms and common decency that continues to spread across the entire local political spectrum - nonpartisan school board elections are becoming as combative as local partisan state house and county council races.

Local elections have now become a vicious blood sport dominated by demagogues and special interest power brokers. As soon as the first news worthy candidate turns negative, the gloves come flying off, and even the lesser known political novices take up the challenge, but they commit even more degrading incivilities than the seasoned incumbents. Once the incivility starts, other candidates seeking recognition take it as an invitation to join in, and pretty soon, there's no limit to the lack of decency and incivility. A tipping point is quickly reached where personal attacks and counterattacks turn most candidates hostile to anything approaching a civil debate or factual dialogue about issues of concern and importance to the constituency. The whole sickening process then culminates in a shower of last minute attacks as mail outs or radio spots full of half-truths, lies and political hyperbole that push many would be voters over the brink - many simply opt out in disgust and avoid the poles on election day. Saturated with negativism, many registered voters simply withdraw and tune out.

So, who wins? It's a simple follow the money. It's the quintessential power seekers and their sycophants that stand to gain by winning influential elected offices entrusted with the public purse. This is the real danger of incivility, and those seeking to stay in positions of power and influence have learned the art of personal destruction to their best advantage. They work to elect those that will keep them in power and reward them with platitudes and false prominence as diligently as they seek to destroy those who would oppose their grand objectives. The real danger to a representative republican form of government, whether local or national, is incivility and lack of respect for an opposing candidate. To function as intended, our form of government requires a reasonable level of politeness and courtesy, anchored by personal ethics and a level of mutual respect for opposing viewpoints and opinions. Without it, good would-be-candidates with the willingness and honest intent to serve will be driven out of the political process, or worse, choose not to ever enter.

Civility isn't like a new tie or dress that can be put on or taken off as circumstances dictate, it's an integral part of each of us that is inseparable from our core beliefs and personal character. Acts of incivility are not just momentary lapses in judgement; they are premeditated, purposeful acts of hostility that betray fundamental flaws in ones character. Most importantly, they are a window into the true character of a person and the best precursor of an aspiring politician's future behavior if allowed to gain office.

No wonder voter turnout continues to slip. As a society, we've lost the collective fortitude to demand more from those who would speak and act for us. The shame is ours, not theirs.

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