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: [email protected]n.com and put "debate" in the subject. Thanks!



Matt Hufman is assistant managing editor/opinion.

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