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Editorial: Let's be civil

| Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, 5:33 p.m.
Republican Scott Wagner, right, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf take part in a gubernatorial debate in Hershey, Pa., Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. The debate is hosted by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Republican Scott Wagner, right, and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf take part in a gubernatorial debate in Hershey, Pa., Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. The debate is hosted by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Calls for civility in politics are sometimes met with guffaws.

Politics, people say, has never been that civilized.

Historians can point to plenty of times when our national political picture has been at a pig-sty level. State and local politics has often been equally comfortable rolling around in the mud.

But that doesn’t mean we have to be OK with it. That doesn’t mean that we look at a place where we used to engage in informed debate or well- reasoned rhetoric and instead shrug and go along with name-calling and hostility as the new status quo.

We have to remember that we are the thermometer for this new fever.

When we accept an incivility, an attack, an unwarranted blow, an outright lie, we move boundaries on what is acceptable and what isn’t.

There are a lot of examples of where politicians stretch those boundaries. The 2016 presidential election certainly redefined the borders. But on Friday, Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race left civility behind in a whole new way.

Republican candidate Scott Wagner said in a live video that he would “stomp all over (Gov. Tom Wolf’s) face with golf spikes” en route to the Governor’s Mansion.

His spokesman said it was a metaphor.

Wolf doesn’t get a pass. While he has personally been somewhat low-key in his statements, like in this month’s debate when he largely sat back and let moderator and game show host Alex Trebek take on Wagner, his campaign has not been above negative advertising.

And that is the problem. When we are OK with one person throwing mud, that invites his opponent to throw a rock in return. It becomes a tit-for-tat game, death by a thousand sound bites, none of which are saying anything about who we should actually vote for and everything about who we shouldn’t.

Some campaigns start out with a pledge to not wallow in the shallow end of the muck when making ads or skewering opponents, but in an age of political action committees that can make ads without a candidate’s input, it’s an easy thing to work around.

So what if the pledge about civility came from us, the voters? What if we were the ones that said we want a clean fight, no hits below the belt? What if we said just tell us why you are the best candidate and not why the guy in the other corner isn’t? And what if we meant it?

People go to the negative ads because they work. People will eschew facts in favor of slick attacks because they are scary or salacious, not because there is any meat on the bone they have been thrown.

So let’s not let that happen. Let’s make people stick to the record and prove their own worth.

Civility in politics doesn’t have to be a punchline.

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