As a Utahn living in Australia a nation struggling with its own precipitous decline into bitter, divisive political discourse I join wholeheartedly in the recent calls in The Salt Lake Tribune and elsewhere for moderation and civility in our political dialogue. With so much at stake in the debate at the center of our modern public square, we cannot afford the destructive distraction of incivility. Such behavior in the form of rancor, name-calling, or motive-questioning disrupts and demeans the important work of our public officials.
With this in mind, I was drawn to a story in The Tribune last week, which reported on a lecture by Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics. According to the article, the speakers presented a thesis from their new book advocating moderation in politics and railing against extremism. Yet, it became clear that the authors' real grudge was something quite different; instead of advocating for civility, Ornstein and Mann touted a different "c" word: compromise. And in pressing the specific compromise they favor, Ornstein and Mann's arguments cut squarely against the principle of civility.
The Ornstein and Mann premise was that compromise in politics is a fundamental element of a well-functioning bipartisan system. To illustrate their point, they singled out Utah Sen. Mike Lee, whom they characterized as "an ideologue who exists to impede legislation as a member of the minority party" and "the product of a system that rewards members of the political party not in power for being obstructionist at all costs."