Civility, Hate and Politics

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(Host) The pressure of the campaign season is taking a toll on civility, according to commentator Bill Seamans.

(Seamans) Any hope for the survival of civility in this presidential campaign received the coup de grace from Dick Cheney when in a moment of extreme exasperation he told Senator Patrick Leahy to go – well, you know! And Mrs. Kerry gave the demise of civility a bipartisan imprimatur when she told a reporter to shove it when pressed to her moment of extreme exasperation. It’s obvious that the political skin gets thinner as the campaign pressure grows the closer we get to the ultimate opinion poll on November second.

President Bush’s pledge to change the tone of our national political dialogue for the better has fallen with the demise of civility. But there has been a change – the political debate has gone from from bad to worse. The Swift Boat saga signals that the bipartisan ad hominem campaign has reached depths that insult the public and we can expect that the worst has yet to come in a last-minute October surprise smearathon. Is it naive to ask do we voters really deserve to be treated this way? The surrogate smearmeisters say they are giving us the kind of campaign the public really wants! Do we really?

One answer is the multimillion dollar negative campaign industry that has grown with the rapid expansion of the tv and radio media that broadcast the political attack ads to the public. The most potent of these is, of course, the television spot approved by the candidate. Another is the band of slash and burn radio talk show hosts. Their success tells us that, yes, indeed, the public does accept this kind of campaigning. The New York Times said that people say they hate political mudslinging, but surveys show that the dirt sticks.

My thirty-eight years in the network broadcast trenches have made me particularly sensitive to what I think is the most dangerous word in political broadcasting – the word HATE. The smearmeisters repeatedly tell us that Liberals hate Conservatives, that Conservatives hate liberals, that we hate Bush or Kerry. If we criticize we are told that we Hate. History tells us that hate purveyed with authority inevitably incites the unstable fringe element and leads to civil violence – not what we need when we are in a war and facing the threat of terrorism here at home. Michael Moore called it HATRIOTISM!

Meanwhile, we continue filling the entertainment stadia while our G.I.’s are being killed or maimed in Iraq and Afghanistan. The nation seems to be idling in neutral and we are reaching our own moment of extreme exasperation. We the people ask where do we go from here as we grope through the fog of HATRIOTISM.

This is Bill Seamans.

Award-winning journalist Bill Seamans is a former correspondent and bureau chief for ABC News in the Middle East. He spoke to us from our studio in Norwich.

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