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Guest opinion

Prezelski: Count me 'Yes, but' on civility

I’m always a little bit wary when I hear calls for civility in politics.

Supporting civility is an easy stance after an ugly political incident. Heck, even noted ephebophile Ted Nugent is now pro-civility. Do I want our political debates to sound like pro-wrestling ring interviews? Of course not. It’s just that I question the need for “civility” to be the number-one watchword in our civic life.

My trouble is that “civility” is often used by folks to shut down opposing debate. In the months after the Jan. 8 shooting, there was a debate about development around the University of Arizona. Sure enough, proponents of the various projects invoked the new emphasis on civility that followed the shooting as a cudgel to end the debate. It doesn’t take a cynic to ask why they were so eager to ask opponents to be a bit quieter, less assertive and, yes, more civil.

Civility can be invoked to further marginalize opinions that are not popular, or at least held by people who aren’t in charge of things. Go back and take a look at the editorial pages during the Civil Rights movement. Not just the New York Times and such, but the newspapers from mid-sized cities. "The black community should learn to use the system, be patient. You know, be more civil."

This, by the way, was directed at a movement where activists were dressed in ties and instructed to be polite. It makes me question if the trouble was really with the methods.

Back in 2006, after years of inflammatory rhetoric from elected officials, Latinos and their friends staged several mass protests in our state. The reaction from the press? "Maybe it’s time to cool the rhetoric. You people need to be more civil."

For some reason, this wasn’t an admonition directed at the people in charge.

This brings me to my biggest problem with civility for civility’s sake. We talk about how people engage their elected officials, and how elected representatives talk to each other. We don’t talk an awful lot about elected officials showing respect to the people that they represent.

We have had a lot of, to borrow Bill Clinton’s neologism, “themming” in politics in my time. It’s them the gays, them the lazy millennials, them the feminists, them the blacks, them the press, them the Hispanics, them the welfare recipients. The people that run our country need to talk, and act, like they represent all Americans. That includes “them.”

That's more important to me than whether or not a fellow legislator is addressed as "the distinguished gentlelady."

If you are going to build your political career by scapegoating my neighbors and people I care about, it doesn’t matter to me which senator you go bowling with when you are out of session.

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Paul M. Ingram/TucsonSentinel.com

A passionate debate over migrant kids in Oracle, Ariz., in 2014.