Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, has written to both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, calling for them to sign a “Civility in America” pledge. Developed by the Knights of Columbus, this newest pledge asks candidates, commentators and the media to focus on the issues without making personal attacks.
The Washington Post drew attention to Dolan’s letters as he agreed to give the benediction at the Republican National Convention, and it was announced that he would also deliver the closing prayer at the Democratic convention this week in Charlotte, NC.
In the letters, the Cardinal noted the results of a recent poll that found that 78 percent of Americans are frustrated with the tone in politics today, and that 66 percent believe that candidates spend more time attacking their opponents than addressing the issues. “That this perception exists cannot be healthy for our country or our democratic political process,” Dolan wrote. “Civility in America is giving voice to the desire of Americans of all backgrounds and political parties for more civil discourse during this election season.”
So far, it is unclear as to whether either of the candidates or their running mates would sign the agreement. The idea of a civility pledge is certainly not new. USA Today points out that Evangelical activist Mark DeMoss led an interfaith group that sent 585 letters to every governor and member of Congress, asking them to agree to respectful discourse, but eventually pulled the plug on his campaign when he only received three signatures – from Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn.; Rep. Frank Wolfe, R-Va.; and Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C.
According to Laurie Goodstein at The New York Times, DeMoss shut down his civility project early last year after spending two years and $30,000, only to find an inbox of hostile emails. DeMoss told Goodstein, “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.”
This newest plea comes after a prominent evangelical, Rick Warren, canceled plans for a “civil forum” appearance at his Southern California church by both presidential candidates, The New American noted. “The forums are meant to be a place where people of goodwill can seriously disagree on significant issues without being disagreeable or resorting to personal attack and name-calling,” it quoted him as saying. “But that is not the climate of today's campaign. I've never seen more irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads, and I don't expect that tone to change before the election.”
Is it too late in the presidential election for candidates to adopt a tone of fairness and abandon personal attacks? Or has that become a part of the political process? Should politicians give up on the idea of pledges, or try again? Weigh in.