As reported on a blog for The New York Times, only three elected members of Congress have signed the “Civility Pledge”:

I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.

I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.

I will stand against incivility when I see it.

Could my fellow Sciblings sign such a pledge? I hope so. This should be easy. Let us inform and not fuel the fires for the extremists, regardless of ideology.

From The New York Times blog “The Caucus”

Just as Americans are debating whether untamed political rhetoric inspired the shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona, the founder of a project to promote civility in politics is calling it quits because only three elected members of Congress agreed to sign a rudimentary “Civility Pledge.”

Mark DeMoss, a Republican and a prominent evangelical Christian who runs a public relations firm in Atlanta, initiated in January 2009 because of alarm over what he saw as the increasingly vicious tone in American politics. He asked his friend, Lanny J. Davis, a Jewish Democrat and a lobbyist who worked for President Bill Clinton, to join the effort.

They sent out 585 letters asking every sitting governor and member of Congress to sign a pledge that said:

I will be civil in my public discourse and behavior.

I will be respectful of others whether or not I agree with them.

I will stand against incivility when I see it.

Mr. DeMoss said he in an interview that he is now folding the project after spending two years and about $30,000 in expenses on the endeavor. The three legislators had signed the pledge. They were Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut; Representative Frank Wolfe, Republican of Virginia; and Representative Sue Myrick, Republican of North Carolina.

In a letter written on Jan. 3 to the three, Mr. DeMoss said, “I must admit to scratching my head as to why only three members of Congress, and no governors, would agree to what I believe is a rather low bar.”
Mr. DeMoss, a former aide to Moral Majority founder Rev. Jerry Falwell and an unpaid adviser to Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in the 2008 presidential campaign, said that he was particularly surprised by the hostility to the civility pledge from conservatives.

“The worst e-mails I received about the civility project were from conservatives with just unbelievable language about communists, and some words I wouldn’t use in this phone call,” he said. “This political divide has become so sharp that everything is black and white, and too many conservatives can see no redeeming value in any liberal or Democrat. That would probably be true about some liberals going the other direction, but I didn’t hear from them.”

Mr. DeMoss said he was not convinced that there is a link between vicious political attacks and violent acts, but he added, “Whether or not there’s violence, whether or not incivility today is worse than it’s been in history, it’s all immaterial. It’s worse than it ought to be.”


  1. #1 Rokkaku
    January 12, 2011

    Your surname’s really appropriate

  2. #2 Jeff
    January 12, 2011

    Can you expand? Thanks. Why is it so difficult?

  3. #3 becca
    January 12, 2011

    Anything spearheaded by a former aid to Jerry Falwell is going to be a tough sell, no matter how well intentioned. What is it, exactly, you are trying to accomplish and why is it important to you?

  4. #4 Jeff
    January 12, 2011

    Thanks. That is the point. The source is irrelevant. Why question civility?

  5. #5 george.w
    January 12, 2011

    Start by defining “civility”. Hurting their delicate little feelings? Using one of the 7 awful words?

    I have no problem signing off on a pledge to eschew violence and violent rhetoric. No “metaphors” of “killing them” (we meant in the polls! Honest!), no gun imagery or calls for torture or beatings, no bringing guns to political rallies.

    Violence, not vigor, is the problem.

  6. #6 Ichthyic
    January 12, 2011

    why is it important to you?

    because people are actually starting to act on some of the violent rhetoric, maybe?

    just a guess, though.

  7. #7 Jeff
    January 12, 2011

    Published in December:

    This has always been important, regardless of timing or origin of source.

  8. #8 Rokkaku
    January 12, 2011

    Jeff, I’d be happy to expand.

    “Civility” is, I think, missing the point. It’s far too broad. Like the poster in number 5 says, being “civil” can extend to avoiding hurting the feelings of others. Well, sometimes truths are uncomfortable and hurt feelings are an unfortunate by-product.

    If, on the other hand, we’re restricting the definition of “civility” to the kind of thing that ichthyic is talking about in post 6, then absolutely we need to support it, and everyone needs to take it seriously. But this isn’t how “being civil” is actually defined in common usage – “shut your mouth” isn’t civil, for example.

    So by asking people to be “civil” we’re doing two things:

    1) Ignoring the fact that the actual problem in the discourse right now is violent hate speech, not an absence of civility.
    2) Contributing – completely by accident in your case, I am sure – to this “both sides” culture, in which a nasty word is placed on a par with incitement to violence.

    Call for an end to violent rhetoric by all means, but if vague calls for “civility” in discourse are the best you can do then count me out.

  9. #9 E.V.
    January 12, 2011

    Are you aware of the definition of a tone troll?
    Do you consider yourself a theist, agnostic or atheist? Your answer or lack thereof will be very telling.
    Where do you weigh in on the Chris Mooney accomodationist rhetoric and the sock puppet dishonesty that slandered PZ and a couple of people who regularly post on Pharyngula? What are your thoughts on Ken Ham’s rewriting of reality through creationist lenses and the use of public funds to build a theme park that is propaganda for YECs? What are your views on DI and the concerted effort to sneak in alternative views on creation and eradicate evolution in Texas schoolbooks? Let’s start with that, I have many more questions yet.

  10. #10 becca
    January 12, 2011

    Jeff, as I have explained to you before… when one group systematically uses appeals to a principle to quash discussion and marginalize people, it is problematic to advocate that principle. Even if the *principle* is quite sound. For example, consider certain individual’s using the principle of ‘patriotism’ to imply that people who questioned the basis for war with Iraq were traitorous. Is patriotism a good thing? Of course. Do I actively *squirm* with discomfort when people call me patriotic, in large part because of this cultural baggage? Yep.

    In an ideal world, perhaps we would be able to discuss the merits of patriotism without any baggage.

    In the world as it exists, it is necessary to define the terms of the discussion very carefully if one is going to insist on ignoring how rhetoric has been used before.

    “Civility” means very different things to different people. To some, it is always going to seem like dishonest double speak designed to shut people up. Even for those of us who might agree civility is a good thing… what exactly does it mean to pledge to be civil?

    In addition, while I place some positive value in what I define as “civil behavior” I do not make the mistake of confusing it with “non-violent behavior” (which I value a good deal more). You can have non-civil non-violent rhetoric (“your mother was a hampster and your father smelt of elderberries!”). You can have also have civil, yet indirectly violent rhetoric (“I say, good sir, I do believe I eagerly await the day when you shall pass on to your maker”).

    (of course, non-civil violent attitudes “fuck off and die” and civil, non-violent attitudes “isn’t Pie delicious?” are also possible)

  11. #11 Onkel Bob
    January 12, 2011

    Yes, it is quite difficult. The prevailing mood of society equates servility with civility; those in power demand servile behavior, those out of power resent the demand.
    Here’s the thing, the tolerant are always walked over by the intolerant. Turning the other cheek is all nice and that but it also tends to encourage bad behavior in the sociopaths that appear to have gained a foothold in Congress.
    We do not suffer from a lack of civility as much a dearth of honor, integrity, and honesty. Restore those three qualities and civility will follow naturally.

  12. #12 GrayGaffer
    January 12, 2011

    civility. directly related to civilization. Less civil == not so civilized. If we think US is the pinnacle of civilization, then we’d better act civiliy. Else we are not. Not an accident of spelling.

    The reaction he got suggests most of Congress are three-year-olds in spirit. I think we already knew that, but now it is documented.

  13. #13 DrugMonkey
    January 13, 2011

    Here’s an idea for one who is putatively an academic. Why don’t you do some research on how your sciblings feel about “civility”, particularly those of us who are unimpressed by disingenuous calls for civility. There’s been a fair number of pixels spilt on the *whys*, not just the doin’

    Continuing to pose your “reasonable” questions without evincing any shred of interest in the positions of those who you are presumably questioning is, one might observe, quite uncivil.

    Start here:

  14. #14 Jeff
    January 13, 2011

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Yes, “Civility” means very different things to different people. President Obama expressed beautifully what I was attempting to convey in an admittedly clumsy fashion.


    “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 think differently than we do,” he said, “it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.”

    “If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let’s make sure it’s worthy of those we have lost,” Mr. Obama said. “Let’s make sure it’s not on the usual plane of politics and point scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle.”

    “If, as has been discussed in recent days, their deaths help usher in more civility in our public discourse,” Mr. Obama said, “let us remember that 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 our challenges as a nation, in a way that would make them proud.”


  15. #15 Rokkaku
    January 13, 2011

    Obama freely acknowledges that a lack of civility didn’t cause the tragedy. Both you and he are skirting around the two problems that I gave above. Neither of you address them at all.

  16. #16 darwinsdog
    January 13, 2011

    Could my fellow Sciblings sign such a pledge?

    If the like of PZ Meyers, Greg Laden, Ed Brayton, et al., signed such a pledge, and actually abided by it, their popularity would plummet, hits to their blog pages decline, and Seed Media would be out ad revenue. Ad revenue is what it’s all about, Jeff.

  17. #17 Todd
    January 13, 2011

    I would love to be civil all of the time. We should all aspire to it. Sometimes, however, the need for social justice outweighs the need to be completely civil. Sometimes a black person has to get on the whites-only bus.

    England must have thought our founding fathers incredibly uncivil in their desire to break free from the mother country. In cases of oppression or social injustice, civil disobedience can be the best tool to facilitate change, particularly when the other side does not listen to reason.

  18. #18 justin tv
    January 13, 2011

    I agree “Obama freely acknowledges that a lack of civility didn’t cause the tragedy. Both you and he are skirting around the two problems that I gave above. Neither of you address them at all.”

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