- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

Shrill election coverage is inescapable, candidate squabbling the norm. The siren call of the political argument lingers at the water cooler.

But, please, preserve those manners.

“Politicians may sling mud at one another, but wise workers stay above the fray during the 2008 presidential campaign by keeping heated political discussions out of the workplace,” said P.M. Forni, director of the Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins University, an ongoing academic examination of etiquette in contemporary society.

But even in the age of excruciating political correctness, it’s up to employees rather than bosses to keep things civil, Mr. Forni said.

Political fisticuffs must be handled “at the cubicle level,” and with a keen eye toward consequences, he advised.

“Most managers won’t legislate good manners or dampen debates. There is only so much that an organization can do,” Mr. Forni said. “Over-regulation prescribed from the top can add to the very tension that it is meant to ease. In the end, it is up to the individual workers to find the wisdom and deploy the skills to remain professional.”

Besides, he cautioned, one will have to face co-workers long after Election Day.

Yet, political banter is a fixture in American conversations. A Fox 5/The Washington Times/Rasmussen Reports survey conducted shortly before Christmas found that 73 percent of the 1,000 respondents planned to discuss the presidential race with family and friends. Almost a quarter vowed to “avoid political discussions like the plague,” however.

Cindy Post Senning, great-granddaughter of etiquette maven Emily Post and director of the Vermont-based Emily Post Institute, has advice for those in battle mode.

“Don’t battle it out right there in the living room. Keep the dialogue from becoming personal. Talk about the issues. Search for common ground,” she said.

And if all else fails, drag in the press.

“Switch the discussion to a more neutral topic — for example, the news coverage,” Mrs. Senning said. “Consider changing the subject to the NCAA tournament, the Academy Awards, the weather.”

Some politicians are so sick of arguments in the current presidential debates that they have embarked on a quest — “Unity 08” — to restore civility to the entire political arena. New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former Sen. Jack Danforth and 15 other assorted statesmen and officials are meeting at the University of Oklahoma today to dwell on commonalities.

“Partisan polarization is preventing us from uniting to meet the challenges that we must face if we are to prevent further erosion of America’s power of leadership and example,” Mr. Bloomberg noted in a letter to participants.

“We understand the rough-and-tumble part of the political process, but without a modicum of civility and respect in our debates, forming a bipartisan consensus on the major issues after the election will be virtually impossible,” he said.

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