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Letter to the readers:

Is civility an option?

Huckabee’s approach to talk radio raises issue of the tone of debate

Mon, Mar 26, 2012 (2:02 a.m.)

Dear Reader,

Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and Republican presidential candidate, is launching a radio show next month that is being positioned to challenge Rush Limbaugh, the king of talk radio.

Given that Limbaugh’s well-established program airs on some 600 stations and Huckabee’s will open on 140, that is a long shot. However, what’s interesting is how Huckabee and his backers think he can compete with Limbaugh.

The Wall Street Journal reported that “The Huckabee Show” is being sold as a low-key alternative to Limbaugh, noting the controversy that has swirled around Limbaugh since his verbal attack on a female law school student. The Cumulus Media Networks, which is syndicating Huckabee’s show, uses the slogan “more conversation, less confrontation.” And in an interview with the Journal, Huckabee drew the comparison this way:

“I’m not a person who would call anyone by names that would cause my late mother to come out of her grave and slap me to the floor.”

Is Huckabee on to something? Do people want more conversation and less confrontation or a more polite discussion about the issues?

Huckabee may be hard-pressed to make that work on talk radio, where brash acts thrive on more confrontation, not conversation. But what about in politics or civic affairs?

There is plenty of terrible behavior in public view. We regularly hear complaints about the tenor of politics, campaigns, public debate, the Internet, comments, etc. We’ve heard from people who say they want no part of it, and who could blame them?

It seems that many of us are talking (or yelling) past one another, mimicking what we see and hear from many public officials and media personalities. And the anonymity of the Internet gives people the ability to use language they’d never use in person. That can’t be good for the type of serious public debate the country needs to move forward, can it?

It seems Congress can’t have a debate about the budget or deficit without a verbal brawl that devolves into personal attacks and mud-slinging. And many of the arguments come down to something we would have hoped to have left behind in third grade: “He did it first! He’s worse!”

It would be naive to think this type of behavior would stop any time soon, especially considering that harsh campaigns have been part of American politics for generations. If there’s any novelty, it’s the extent and speed that such rhetoric spreads given the use of the Internet and the fact that a 140-character message carries great influence today.

However, it’s tough to discuss the complexities of the federal budget in tweets and sound bites, but that seems of little matter. It’s what works. The negative tone also seems to work. For example, people routinely say they hate the slash-and-burn tactics of negative campaigns and loathe attack ads, yet they tend to work quite well.

Huckabee appears to be trying to cut a different path. He seems to be able to engage in discussion and disagree, and do so strongly, without being disagreeable or getting into petty games of name-calling. But will that work? We’ll see how he does and whether he is a trail blazer or just a lone wolf.

What do you think? Is the tenor of the debate a problem to you? Do you think it’s a problem for the country?

We’ll look forward to hearing what you think. You can comment below or send your thoughts in a letter — 250 words or less is preferred — with your name, address and phone number if you want us to consider printing your letter. Anonymous letters will not be published. E-mail: letters@lasvegassun.com and put "debate" in the subject. Thanks!



Matt Hufman is assistant managing editor/opinion.

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Discussion: 36 comments so far…

  1. Dear Matt,

    Mike the Governor is a real quality gentleman. His new show will be a success I predict.And without cutting into the brashness of Limbaugh's voice.

  2. To Matt Hufman: We have lost sight of our goal in this country. While our purpose should be solving a problem, it has degenerated into the goal of winning the debate. In order to win the debate, truth is stretched or completely ignored. Opponents motivations, patriotism, religious affiliation etc. are questioned, and we end up with two sides screaming at each other while their trousers are aflame. The result is a hardening of positions that leave little room for compromise or bipartisanship.

  3. "Huckabee appears to be trying to cut a different path. He seems to be able to engage in discussion and disagree, and do so strongly, without being disagreeable or getting into petty games of name-calling. But will that work? We'll see how he does and whether he is a trail blazer or just a lone wolf."

    I don't think he will be a trail blazer in this regard. If you ask me, anyone could host a right wing radio talk show.

    Just because Mr. Huckabee plays himself off as the voice of reason and tries to legitimize the far right wing position doesn't mean it will be popular.

    I don't watch his show, but I don't think he can transfer this enthusiasm to a radio show.

    From what I have seen of his television show, it relies heavily upon audiences. It's going to be a lot different when he says something, expects applause, and all he has is a quiet sound studio. I don't think he can handle it. Because he's first and foremost a politician. And he seems to thrive on adoration from the people. Kind of hard to get that on radio.

    Plus the fact that his musical abilities will have a hard time making an appearance on radio. That side will be gone. Kind of hard to play bass with Lynyrd Skynyrd on radio and be appreciated. It don't transfer.

    But I guess his radio show will thrive, but only if he comes up with some new shtick or a hook or something.

    "What do you think?"

    What I really think is it's all timing. I guess the powers that be in the right wing radio network system see an opening after Mr. Limbaugh's debacle. And they think this "voice of reason" thing will work. Perhaps even unseat Mr. Limbaugh's over abundant backside from a chair in front of a microphone.

    "Is the tenor of the debate a problem to you?"

    Not to me. I don't listen to it.

    And I really doubt Mr. Limbaugh has twenty million listeners. I don't think it's even close to that number. It's highly suspect because there has been no actual way of gauging listeners on the radio. That number sprouts from the producers of that show, and the radio network that airs it.

    "Do you think it's a problem for the country?"

    No. Not regarding Mr. Huckabee. Unless he crosses to the dark side.

    It is a problem for Mr. Limbaugh though. Because he can't seem to shut up and turn off the blatant hate. Especially when it regards people who have different equipment between their legs than he has. He seems to have a viral hatred for women, and he portrays it on his show for all to behold all the time. This is leading to advertisers leaving in droves. He's sinking his own boat.

    I make a prediction: I can see right wing hate radio disappearing. Slowly though. I say they don't have the loyal followings they say they have. I see more made up stuff propping them up than I see things promoting them to stay in business.

  4. Can Huckabee admit when he is wrong and apologize?

  5. In other words, can he learn?

  6. Will Mr. Huckabee's radio show make it? Chances are no.

    A very large portion of the American Public wants drama. They are not interested in Facts or real solutions to the problems of our country today. They want the dirt on candidates running for office or anything negative from a persons past.

    Most "good" people would not consider running for office in this country today. They are not interested in becoming nothing more then a side show for the American public.

    People that do good in today's America are considered evil and have motives with the American public. People that would be willing to make the hard decisions that require the American public to become responsible for their own lives and actions can not be elected, that is not what American's want anymore.

    With no hard hitting drama people will tune out Mr. Huckabee and call him boring. The money will not be there without the listeners to keep the show running. Just how it is.

    It is no longer about reality, it is about who can spin the story to keep the most excitement in it.

  7. No, dipstick, the more speech the better. Your solution seems to be to center on silencing those who disagree with your point of view, narrow as it is. We have seen just how well the liberal point of view goes over on radio in the form of Air America which went belly-up and without a call from Conservatives that it be taken off the air. It failed in the best venues the US has to offer - the venues of public opinion and the market place of ideas. Obviously, the ideas put forth on Air America were unacceptable to thinking American's while shows featuring Limbaugh and others rake in the listeners and the advertisers. So, it's back to the drawing board for you, dipstick. Go suck your thumb as you whine and cry into your little security blankie.

  8. "Huckabee appears to be trying to cut a different path. He seems to be able to engage in discussion and disagree, and do so strongly, without being disagreeable or getting into petty games of name-calling. But will that work? "

    Huffman -- I see you mentioned nothing about how in Huckabee's presidential bid his choice for VP was Jesus Christ. This not only shows delusion, it shows how willing he is to change his stripes to stay relevant to the herd.

    "People need to voice their support and/or frustrations no matter what side of the political spectrum their loyalties may be positioned at."

    BChap -- imagine that, free speech. How quickly so many forget enduring the uncivil side of it is the price we pay to have it.

    "replacing rushbo with silence would be even a better solution."

    dipstick -- amen to that. But Limbaugh has had a show for so long because he has an audience. All those who whine and rant about him -- and by doing so only contribute to his popularity with the masses -- keep forgetting all they have to do is turn him off. I wrote him off as a buffoon long ago and now don't even tune in to any popular media. It's so much more peaceful.

    "But perhaps the desire of the thing called fame will torment thee." -- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Roman Emperor, 2nd Century A.C.E.

  9. @KillerB ....

    You said "How quickly so many forget enduring the uncivil side of it is the price we pay to have it."

    And then you stated "...amen to that..." in reference to replacing Rush with silence.

    It just seems to me that the statements made above are mutually exclusive. I don't understand how one can champion free speech, yet advocate silencing free speech that one does not agree with.

  10. Fnord

  11. Incivility in cultural and political discourse is nearing the level of that in academia. It has been noted that academic incivility is robust because so little is at stake. It occurs to me that the cultural and political warriors are fighting over the equivalent of the office with windows.

  12. @boftx - Illuminatus! ;-)

  13. This is a great discussion, and you're exploring a variety of interesting angles. I appreciate it.

    My interest, and concern, about the tone of the civic discussion isn't to limit debate, as some people seem to think. It's actually the opposite: I've seen ugliness and name-calling turn people away from participating in discussion. (Not all of them have thin skins. Many just don't see the point of engaging in a "debate" that is more about who can score the most verbal put downs than discussing the issues.)

    Of course, civic life isn't dainty, and people have the choice to participate.

    BChap made some good comments on the discussion, particularly on the Internet. People with differing views do clash and have robust conversations. And sometimes, those clashes can get very rough. Fair enough.

    But to PISCES41's point, has society focused on winning the debate instead of trying to find solutions?


  14. Matt -

    Few are looking for real solutions; most folks here (and elsewhere) seem to think complex issues are but a game to be won and that any opponent must be ridiculed into submission or simply shouted down. Logic, common sense, and/or critical thinking be damned.

    Exploration of common ground is neither here nor there; it's been thoroughly eroded away by the acid rains of hate, bigotry, political dogma, and outright ignorance.

  15. As Sgt. Rock pointed out, things have been worse. I thought about the nation's history before I wrote this piece, including the beating Rep. Preston Brooks administered to Sen. Charles Sumner in 1856 on the floor of the Senate.

    However, in the ebb and flow of things, there have also been better times as well. There was a time when people sat for hours listening to speeches and watching politicians debate (Lincoln-Douglas, for example). There have also been great examples of politicians from vastly different viewpoints finding ways to work together (e.g. Ronald Reagan-Tip O'Neill).

    I'd agree with Test_Guy's assessment in that it seems there is too much of a focus on who wins and loses than in finding solutions.

  16. Also, out of curiousity, I went back to the Senate's history office to look up the Rep. Preston Brooks beating of Sen. Charles Sumner.

    Here's a summary of what the Senate historian reports (you can find it at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/hist...

    Three days before the beating, Sumner went after two colleagues in a speech -- Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Andrew Butler of South Carolina -- in the debate over whether to admit Kansas as a free state or a slave state.(Brooks took offense because he was related to Sumner.)

    Sumner called Douglas, who was in the chamber, a "noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator."

    Sumner attacked Butler, who was not present, and his stance as a "man of chivalry." He accused Butler of taking "a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight--I mean, the harlot, Slavery."

    I can only imagine what would happen today if a senator did something similar. (Other than the C-Span clips going viral.)

  17. It is true that many people tend to mimic what they see and hear in the media, but the converse is also true. I have little doubt that many politicians and media personalities are simply playing to the crowds and trying to come across as a "regular guy" by engaging in what is perceived to be regular behavior, good manners and argument be damned.

    Given the current level of polarization I don't think Huckabee will enjoy a large measure of success. Al Franken tried that, and look what happened. (Yes, Franken is tame compared to most of the talking heads on MSNBC.)

    To airweare, I must disagree that Re was putting up a straw man. One of the major components of topics being "debated" today is the proper role of government. That is as legitimate an item today just as it was over 200 years ago (i.e. the Federalist Papers.)

    Unfortunately, it seems that most people would rather regurgitate dogma from either extreme instead of looking at each proposed action independently and argue the merits on a case by case basis.

  18. The scariest thing about this topic, is that probably every person who refuses to even attempt to use a brain cell to think about their own position, let alone a different one, votes.

  19. Can RefNV point to any time in human history that self-reliance existed? No use of metalurgy, tools, or any implements that took group action to make are allowed for such examples because, obviously, such use makes a mockery of claims of self reliance. While we are at it include food and water which are result of many people's efforts over the course (think of the generational efforts to make 'modern' grain) of literally hundreds of years. Can someone define freedom while they are at it? All actions are constrained by either physical limits or limits imposed to constrain harm to self or others. Less law doesn't equate to more 'freedom' but something closer to anarchy. So I find the arguments of conservatives regarding 'freedom' and 'self reliance' at best banal and often meaningless.

  20. mschaffer,

    You know damn well that RefNV is talking about minimal government. Unlike you, I say that there can be no liberty without personal responsibility.

    You, of all the people who post here, are possibly the strongest proponent of the "nanny state". I am the complete opposite of you.

    The company I work for cut my pay (and that of all the other employees) in half at the start of this year in an effort to stay in business. (Market conditions for us have changed over the last five years. The owners have already been taking only $1/yr for the last 2 years. At least they can afford it since they have literally made tens of millions from the software I have written for them since the late 90s.)

    I can easily qualify for some assistance programs at this point, but I have not applied for any of them. Instead, I have looked around and found another company that my vision and skill can help and I expect to be making the same, if not more than I was before in a few months. (This time I have negotiated for a percentage of the monthly income and not just a flat rate.)

    In other words, I help create success for the people who help me. That may not be self-reliance as you see it, but I know that I am making my own success and am also enabling others to succeed as well.

    Can you say the same?

  21. JefffromVegas,

    Thank you for the kind words (though some members of my family would disagree with you.) You, along with many others who post here, would be welcomed at the table. (My wife is a proud socialist.)

  22. You're more than welcome, RefNV.

    I could literally write a book on what I call "enlightened self-interest" to refute what Mark said. (To airweare, Mark's post was a real "straw man" argument.)

    But to bring this more on point with regard to Matt's topic, I submit that Mark's post was an example of using rhetorical tactics in an attempt to "score points" rather than an attempt to engage in honest debate. Not that you need any help to defend yourself, but I simply couldn't remain silent when I read it.

    I disagree with you in other areas, but I know we agree in principle on this.

    Again, in deference to Matt's topic, when people acknowledge their differences but agree to seek common ground progress can be made. A recent example of this is how Barney Frank and Ron Paul joined forces to call for an end to our involvement in Afghanistan.

  23. boftx,
    It is quite the confused mishmash you have posted here. Without the efforts of thousands all your efforts would mean nothing and couldn't even be done ,especially in the software business which mainly exists because of government research. If this new company didn't exist, with all those interdependent people, where would you be?

    Self reliance is a mythology and you should live in the real world rather than the your fairy tale of enlightened self interest.