Inside the Beltway: Oh behave — the public condemns political incivility

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Boorish bombast and churlish behavior in elected officials? Heavens. Such demonstrations thrill journalists who see politics as a spectator sport. But the voting public appears to condemn incivility, and blames politicians for setting a poor example.

“Hot tempers and heated words have always been part of the U.S. political scene. In fact, Aaron Burr challenged Alexander Hamilton to a duel in the early days of the United States,” says Larry Shannon-Missal, research manager for the Harris Poll, which has plumbed the sentiments of Americans on their lawmakers and officials who behave badly.

“While politicians may not be dueling, findings indicate that roughly nine in 10 U.S. adults — 89 percent — believe that political discussions today are angry and bad tempered, and roughly seven in 10 — 69 percent — believe that today’s political climate is more angry and bad tempered than it was in the past,” the pollster says.

But Americans also perceive some collateral damage here. Another 89 percent agree that those rivalries prevent politicians from taking care of business and addressing the public interests. Ironically enough, both 91 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of Democrats agree with this. And whether they like it or not, politicians are also perceived as behavioral role models.

“To what extent do you think that how American politicians treat one another influences how American citizens treat one another?” the Harris Poll asked respondents. Seven out of 10 agreed with the statement. The Grand Old Party, meanwhile, has a worse reputation than the Democrats, the survey found, something for GOP strategists to keep in mind as the 2014 midterm season gets rolling.

“Looking at recent partisan bickering in Washington, three in 10 Americans say Republicans deserve the most blame, down a bit from 34 percent last October, in the wake of the government shutdown,” Mr. Shannon-Missal says. “The percentage blaming Democrats most holds steady at 17 percent. But nearly half — 47 percent, up from 42 percent in October — say both parties are equally deserving of blame.”

KINDER, GENTLER, ET CETERA

Two schools of thought seem to be emerging among GOP strategists as the midterms loom. Some insist that Republican voters are eager for fearless “fighter” candidates who get a clear message out, modeled by the likes of say, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas or Rep. Darrell Issa of California. There’s also a new call out for the old Ronald Reagan-style optimistic touch, and some straightforward talk besides.

“We can turn things around with the right ideas — the right positive agenda — to put forward for the American people in this election and in the next election so that we can have a governing majority when we win. And we will win. But we need to have a positive agenda,” former Republican National Committee chairman and U.S. Senate hopeful Ed Gillespie told a recent Ripon Society forum.

“We have to talk in terms that resonate with people in everyday life and make those lives better,” he advised, adding, “We can’t talk shorthand all the time. Shorthand is great with our base, but it doesn’t resonate with those voters in the middle.”

THE WHOLE KITCHEN SINK

Republicans positively relished David W. Jolly’s defeat of Democratic challenger Alex Sink in a special Florida election on Tuesday, casting it as a positive predictor of things to come. Why, it could signal that it’s 2010 all over again, right?

But the ever-clever press appeared to relish it even more. A few headlines in the aftermath:

“Sink sank sunk” (Wall Street Journal), “Why Sink sank” (Powerline.com), “Florida’s politcal sinkhole is no national belweather” (Huffington Post), “A Jolly night for GOP” (The Daily Beast), “Does Sink’s defeat sink Democrats hopes?” (PJ Media).

Congressman-elect Jolly, incidentally, is leaving Florida in a hurry. He will be sworn in on Thursday afternoon in the nation’s capital at 2 p.m.

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