National Institute for Civil Discourse to open at University of Arizona … Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush (left) will serve as honorary chairmen of a new center at the University of Arizona that will focus on civility in political debate, university officials will announce Monday. Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor and former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) will serve as honorary co-chairmen. Board members will include former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright; Kenneth M. Duberstein, chief of staff to President Ronald Reagan; Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren; Trey Grayson, director of Harvard University's Institute of Politics; and former representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.). – Washington Post
Dominant Social Theme: A civil society is important.
Free-Market Analysis: Can national civility calm political rancor? This question is asked in a Christian Science Monitor article, based on news reports (see above) about the new National Civility Institute. The Institute has received a good deal of coverage and in the rest of this article we'll focus on the Monitor article, which was fairly thorough and provided a number of details. The Institute is the brainchild of Fred DuVal, a friend of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in the head last month. The Tuscon shootings killed six and injured 13 including Rep. Giffords. DuVal said the idea came to him while listening to President Barak Obama deliver a eulogy in Tucson after the attack.
DuVal believes the Institute may answer the question. And he elaborates: "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? Will it change the nature of dialogue? That will be a tall order." The Monitor notes that politics descended into "threats or violence" in 2010 some seven times.
While it's not clear how the paper reached this determination, the article points to the "Internet's … media machine," as providing a polarized environment. This and the Supreme Court's "allowance of money as speech in political campaigns," are responsible for a "nastier" political scene, presumably one that is more conducive to violence. Having made this suggestion, the Monitor adds, "To be sure, there's still debate about whether the nation's polarized political debate played any role at all in the mind of alleged shooter Jared Loughner."
The Monitor has other doubts as well about the project, pointing out that America's unique social contract itself poses a civility hurdle, given that the country's history has bestowed upon it a core "individualistic and hence basically anti-government and anti-authority," perspective.
This sort of anti-government approach can be traced all the way back to Revolutionary Era pamphleteers who virtually reveled in the "politics of personal destruction." Thomas Jefferson's Republican Richmond Examiner employed the vitriolic James Callender, the Monitor notes, who attacked President John Adams as a "hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman."
We did some checking to find out about the funding of the Institute and discovered, according to the Washington Post, that it was being privately funded by DuVal and others and had already raised close to US$1 million. DuVal has quite a background; he has served in the highest corridors of power as a Democratic activist. He was a top aide to Governor Bruce Babbitt in the 1980s and then held very high positions in the Clinton Administration in the 1990s. It's not clear what he does for a living today, but the Regent's position is a paid one. He serves as vice chairman.
It's not clear if new Institute's location at the University of Arizona, which Duval supervises, will be rent free. But the Institute certainly benefits from its location at the University, given that its environs are seen as academic and even prestigious. How is the University funded? According to azstarnet.com, the University receives extensive Federal grants. An article on the website asserts that, "Last year, buoyed by stimulus spending and a federal budget earmark or two, research grants, gifts and contracts brought in nearly the combined revenue from tuition and direct tax dollars. A big chunk of that money comes from the federal government."
The money totals nearly US$600 million and pays for much more than research. "It pays interest and maintenance on buildings, supports faculty and graduate students, and involves undergraduates in significant pursuits." Other funding for the University comes from registration fees, taxes and, presumably, tuition. The total package is well over US$1 billion but one when one dissects the number it shows clearly that the University's support is overwhelmingly derived from taxable income. Even its Federal grants are ultimately paid for by tax dollars.
There is nothing wrong with civil discourse but as it turns out the Institute is located on a public campus for which taxpayers pay some US$1 billion a year. DuVal himself has held the highest posts in a Democratic administration and former presidents Clinton and Bush are mainstream politicians that have derived vast benefits from the system-as-it-is. Accordingly, there is nothing very civil about this new Institute. It is built on what must be seen as an increasingly dysfunctional system.
It is a system that has involved the US in serial warfare for over 50 years, and has seen the empire to expand to more than 1,000 bases around the world. At home, there are so many spies and spy agencies that the government itself has lost count of them. The Patriot Act allows the federal government to shed the last inhibitions of privacy and wiretap its own citizens at will.
The nation's central bank, like other central banks around the world, has so inflated and ruined the currency (in partnership with Congress) that it is very likely the dollar itself will soon cease to be the world's reserve currency. A high percentage of Americans are on food stamps now and home-ownership has plummeted with more than 10 percent of the nation's housing stock in default. The federal government's budget is perhaps the only thing in the US that is growing, and the current administration has literally added trillions to America's long-term debt. The overall debt obligations of the country are somewhere in the area of US$200 TRILLION, an insupportable amount. The US is bankrupt.
This US is still involved in a major war in the Middle East and thanks to Ben Bernanke's QE2, is still printing a torrent of money-from-nothing. There is nothing civil about America's society or structure at this point. The middle classes are being eviscerated at home and millions of Iraqis and Afghans have been irradiated with depleted uranium abroad. American financial and political elites are basically out of control and the longer the system perpetuates itself the worse it seems to get. No wonder Duval, Clinton, Bush, et al. want to encourage civility. Perhaps they are taking the potential ramifications personally.