USA Today reports Monday that the University of Arizona is establishing an “Institute for Civil Discourse” in the wake of the Tucson shooting that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords fighting for her life after being wounded in the head.
The University announced on its website:
A new center – to be chaired by two U.S. presidents – has been created at the University of Arizona to advance the national conversation currently taking place about civility in political debate.
Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush have agreed to chair the new institute, and will be joined by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.
According to the University, the board of directors will include:
- Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State
- Ken Duberstein, former chief of staff for President Ronald Reagan
- Greta Van Susteren, host of “On the Record,” FOX News Channel
- Trey Grayson, director of the Harvard University’s Institute of Politics
- Jim Kolbe, former U.S. Congressman
Institute initiatives will include:
- Convening major policy discussions with elected officials, policymakers and advocates on topics that tend to generate polarized positions.
- Promoting civil discourse, civic engagement and civic leadership.
- Organizing workshops and conferences in Washington, D.C., Tucson and across the country.
- Promoting a national conversation among prominent public figures from government, business and media regarding challenging political issues in a non-partisan setting.
- Developing programs and research centered around the exercise of First Amendment freedoms conducted in a way that respects both the ideas of others, and those who hold them.
After the fatal shooting in Arizona, Americans debated the role civil discourse and political rhetoric had in the attack. Some went so far as to advocate banning certain words and clip art.
Others blamed Sarah Palin for her use of a graphic on an ad, largely dismissing a similar graphic used by Democrats, while many in the media blamed Glenn Beck and the Tea Party. Even some celebrities like Joan Rivers got into the act.
Some took to Twitter to call for the death of Sarah Palin, and an American expatriate started an online petition to have the former governor indicted.
One of the stated goals of the Institute is “to connect people with diverse viewpoints and to offer a venue for vigorous and respectful debate.”
“The University of Arizona is a place where all political views are welcome and where discussion and vigorous debate can take place in a respectful manner,” said UA President Robert N. Shelton. “I am pleased that the National Institute for Civil Discourse will advance the cause of elevating the tone of our nation’s political rhetoric.”
“The University of Arizona is committed toward helping provide solutions to the challenges facing our country,” said UA Provost Meredith Hay. “It is an ideal home for the National Institute for Civil Discourse, which will focus on bringing Americans of all political backgrounds together to solve problems collaboratively.”
Perhaps the Institute can start with a special class for certain hosts at MSNBC. Maybe they can teach Chris Matthews to be a bit more civil to conservatives like Michelle Bachmann.
Maybe they can have a special initiative teaching certain liberal activists about comparing duly elected officials to brutal dictators like Adolf Hitler.
The New York Times reports the Institute was the brain child of Fred DuVal, vice chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents and a friend of Gabrielle Giffords, who was inspired by President Obama’s speech in Tucson after the shooting. According to the Times, DuVal said defining “best practices and corrosive practices” would be one of the first steps to achieving a civil democracy.
“How do we nurture robustness on one hand and not in any way chill speech, and keep it in bounds that are not destructive to democracy?” he said. “Will it change the nature of dialogue? That will be a tall order.”
DuVal may be right, given the hatred and overheated rhetoric coming from the left on a daily basis. Still, one can dream of a day when conservatives can speak without being compared to Hitler, or insulted by unhinged cable hosts.
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