MARTY RUSSELL: True test of civility may come during the speech

By Marty Russell

Word has it that, at the end of the State of the Union address next Tuesday, all members of Congress – Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers and independents – will join hands and sing “Kumbaya.” And if you believe that, you’ll also be pleased to hear that North Korea has announced it’s willing to give up its nuclear program in exchange for the franchise rights to Disney World East.
Some members of Congress have stated that, in the spirit of political civility in the wake of the shootings in Tucson recently, they will, reluctantly, sit with members of the other party during the president’s annual address to the nation and Congress. No one is more relieved to hear it than the Capitol Hill security force. At least by seating them Republican, Democrat, Republican, Democrat, if one of them pulls out a gun hopefully a member of the opposite party can wrestle them to the ground before they get off too many shots.
The State of the Union address has degenerated during the Obama administration into something of a free-for-all, more resembling amateur night at a comedy club where the hecklers often get the biggest laughs than a serious discussion of issues and agendas. The recent disruptions during the speech are a scary reflection of society and politics itself. It was during a presidential speech on health care reform back in 2009 that Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) broke the usual staid decorum by yelling out, “You lie!”
Then, at last year’s State of the Union address, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito mouthed the words, “Not true,” while the president was discussing the impact of the court’s recent decision on campaign finance reform.
Is it any wonder, then, that political discourse in this country now resembles more of a late-night bar fight where reason and logic have been replaced by 90-proof testosterone or, perhaps, in some cases, estrogen? If lawmakers can’t hold their tongues for an hour’s reading of what is usually a pretty boring and uninsightful speech, then how can we expect them to actually work together on issues that really matter? They’re like siblings who, rather than split the last cookie in the jar, argue over who deserves the whole thing more.
Agreeing to sit together during the State of the Union is a nice gesture given all the discussion of the need to return to civility in politics lately, but I’m afraid that’s all it will amount to, a political new year’s resolution that will last about as long. I have yet to see any real indication that both sides are willing to listen to each other although some Republicans coming forward recently and admitting that the health care reform bill isn’t as bad as they made it out to be is promising.
I know it’s asking a lot of politicians, but if you’re serious about civil discourse, could you at least for one hour next Tuesday, sit down and shut up.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 222 Farley Hall, University MS 38677 or by e-mail at marusse1@olemiss.edu.