Surely an important part of changing the tone is changing the basis of political argument from pejorative spin to a level of discussion that accepts that the other side has legitimate public policy purposes and uses the “principle of charity” in interpreting what others are trying to do. In other words Democrats should take Republican arguments for tax cuts seriously, explaining in detail why they don’t work as claimed and how they tilt toward the rich. Republicans should recognize how hard it is to get money out the door quickly for stimulus purposes and try to improve the focus and effectiveness of the stimulus bill, rather than impugning the motives of those who put it together. They should abjure misrepresentation (when for example they try to suggest that reducing the rates of the lower two brackets does not help the rich). And they should muster the civility to use the proper adjective, “Democratic.”
It would be an interesting project to go through a day’s floor debate and cable news appearances and annotate the text for adherence to such standards. Once the standards are explained, one could then keep a running score for each public figure that could be used as a gentle prod toward improvement–if there really is a demand for a higher level of discourse.
What can the Obama administration and outsiders do to enforce these standards? Could the White House only invite to social events those who meet the standard? Of course. Could the House and Senate leadership of both sides be induced to sign on? Perhaps.
Could the cable networks stop inviting guests who recite partisan attack lines? Could they employ hosts who are knowledgeable enough to politely cut guests off when they fall below the standard? Of course they could — but don’t count on it… ratings might suffer.
I’m not sure whether this is a completely utopian idea or something that could actually work in the current climate. Readers might consider how various political figures and cable guests might act under such a regime.