"For the sake of the younger generation, it concerns me that civility, humanity and respect are sometimes lost in our interactions as Americans. Our political debates today are corrosive and not reflective of the belief that Abe Lincoln espoused back in his day, that we are a great country because we are a good country. You know what I mean when I say that. We will conduct this campaign on the high road. I don't think you need to run down someone's reputation in order to run for the Office of President. Of course we'll have our disagreements. That's what campaigns are all about. But I want you to know that I respect my fellow Republican candidates. And I respect the President of the United States. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help a country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who's the better American."-- Former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-UT), June 21, 2011.
"[There are people] who sincerely believe that history has devised a leftward ratchet, moving in fits and starts but always in the direction of a more powerful state. ... The federal spending commitments now in place will bring about the leviathan state they have always sought. ... Our fiscal ruin and resulting loss of world leadership will, in their eyes, be not a tragic event but a desirable one, delivering the multilateral world of which they've dreamed so long. ... I urge a similar thoughtfulness about the rhetoric we deploy in the great debate ahead. I suspect everyone here regrets and laments the sad, crude coarsening of our popular culture. It has a counterpart in the venomous, petty, often ad hominem political discourse of the day. ... And besides, our opponents are better at nastiness than we will ever be. It comes naturally. Power to them is everything, so there's nothing they won't say to get it."-- Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN), February 11, 2011, during speech to Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
Comment: Notice, Daniels calls for a higher standard of discourse and laments the coarsening of our politics. He says we should avoid "venomous, petty" rhetoric and strive for civil debate. But then he demonizes his political opponents by saying that they are happy that we face fiscal ruin and a loss of international status, and that they only care about power and will say anything to get it. And he indulges in the "only my opponent" caricature by saying that liberals -- and not conservatives -- are "better at nastiness". This, unfortunately, is fairly typical. Politicians routinely say they're opposed to name-calling and invective, and then go on to verbally abuse their opponents with name-calling and invective.
The hopes of a nation are here tonight. We mourn with you for the fallen. We join you in your grief. And we add our faith to yours that Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the other living victims of this tragedy will pull through. … But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. … But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other. That we cannot do. That we cannot do. As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together. … If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate -- as it should -- let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away in the next news cycle. The loss of these wonderful people should make every one of us strive to be better. To be better in our private lives, to be better friends and neighbors and coworkers and parents. And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud. We should be civil because we want to live up to the example of public servants like John Roll and Gabby Giffords, who knew first and foremost that we are all Americans, and that we can question each other's ideas without questioning each other's love of country and that our task, working together, is to constantly widen the circle of our concern so that we bequeath the American Dream to future generations. They believed -- they believed, and I believe that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved life here -- they help me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that's entirely up to us. … I want our democracy to be as good as Christina imagined it. I want America to be as good as she imagined it.-- President Barack Obama, January 12, 2011, during a memorial service for the victims of the January 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ, shooting by Jared Lee Loughner. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was wounded in the shooting. Christina Taylor Green, 9, and Judge John Roll, 63, were two of the six people killed in the shooting.
Comment: Obama is calling for a higher standard of political debate. But, as is frequently the case in such calls, he is not taking responsibility for his own misbehavior, his own contributions to the level of incivility in political discourse. He is leaving the impression that someone else needs to improve their behavior, not him.