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Sam Cook: Civility is losing on all fronts

What have we become? I witnessed a lack of civility on Wednesday night that disgusted me. It was not parents at a youth sporting event. It was not sparring among Duluth School Board candidates. It was in our nation's Capitol. I was watching news ...

Sam Cook

What have we become?

I witnessed a lack of civility on Wednesday night that disgusted me.

It was not parents at a youth sporting event. It was not sparring among Duluth School Board candidates. It was in our nation's Capitol.

I was watching news highlights of President Obama's speech to Congress about health-care reform, and I heard members of Congress jeering the president, shouting boisterous objection to something he had said.

It was reminiscent of listening to the British Parliament.

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But it has happened before. Democrats in Congress audibly expressed their disapproval of President George W. Bush's remarks about the Social Security program during his 2005 State of the Union address.

Earlier this year, President Bush was vigorously booed by those in attendance as he walked to President Obama's inauguration. That, too, was a classless display of emotion.

I understand opposing the president's views on health care or any number of other issues. I understand vigorous debate of those issues in settings where debate is appropriate. But I'm sorry, it's uncool for members of Congress to jeer any president when he's speaking.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior seems to be growing more common. Wednesday's incident follows a month of similar behavior by the American public at town hall meetings on health-care reform. The meetings were designed as a way for members of Congress to get feedback from constituents about health care issues, but they often disintegrated into grandstanding and shouting by angry opponents of proposals being put forth.

Want to see some more of this venom and anger? Scroll through a selection of reader comments on stories published at any newspaper's Web site, including ours. The comments, all offered behind a screen of anonymity, often deteriorate into electronic fisticuffs laced with sarcasm, anger, enmity and name-

calling.

As news media, we want to be more inclusive, to allow for more reader participation. But when I see what we get, I wonder how the process is advancing the human condition. I think, in fact, that it often fosters intolerance and hate.

There is a time for protests on the street corners. There is a time to march on Washington. There are times in the course of our country's history when that is the only way to get our leaders' attention.

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But there is no excuse for boorish behavior, and that includes jeering the president when he's speaking before Congress. Because if it comes down to this -- disrespect, bullying, intolerance for those who hold opposing views -- then what have we got left? Is it sooner or later just a matter of who can shout the loudest? Or who can intimidate most effectively?

Where does that escalation stop?

I'm afraid we have crossed a civility threshold in this country, fueled in part by talk-radio hosts and bellicose television commentators and easily forwarded Internet diatribes. We see anger and intolerance modeled on a daily basis. It sells. It's contagious.

And it's sad.

SAM COOK is a Duluth News Tribune columnist and outdoors writer. Reach him at (218) 723-5332 or scook@duluthnews.com .

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