On Tuesday, a discussion entitled "Politics, Incivility, and Media: The Need to Restore Dialogue and Debate" was held in the Howard H. Baker Center, featuring four experts in the political and media fields.
The panelists met to discuss the problems with political discourse in today's political climate, how to address these problems, and how media and technology have affected the political discourse in the United States.
The panel was moderated by Tom Griscom, who formerly served as editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, communications director for President Ronald Reagan and press secretary for Senator Howard Baker.
Ira Shapiro, author of "The Last Great Senate," long-time Senate staffer and trade ambassador in the administration of President Bill Clinton, described what he calls the "last great Senate," the Senate of the 1960s and 1970s.
"What they were about was sort of a laser-like focus on the national interest," Shapiro said. "That made it possible for them to have these vigorous debates and yet, reach principle compromise and still think well of each other, despite their disparate views."
Patrick Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, former senior vice president of the Washington Post, speechwriter for President Gerald Ford and aide to Senator Baker discussed the effect social media has had on the political climate and gave an example that related to his field, public broadcasting.
"Governor Romney was saying in one of the debates that he wanted to defund public broadcasting, and thanks to social media, millions of people — literally millions of people — came out of the woodwork and said, 'Not so fast there, Governor. We think that this is important, this is a good value, this is something that America ought to be proud of,'" Butler said. "The power of social media to affect political discourse is really quite remarkable, and it is growing."
Trey Grayman, director of the Harvard Institute of Politics and former Kentucky Secretary of State, offered his opinion on how to improve the state of political discourse in the United States.
"If you're around somebody or you have a friend who says something on Facebook or something like that, that's just wrong, incivil, insensitive, racist, stupid, whatever — call them out, politely, civilly. But I'm a big believer in people of their own side self-policing," Grayman said. "It's a lot more meaningful when a Republican says about another Republican, 'Hey, you shouldn't have done that, you shouldn't have said that,' than when it is somebody on the other side saying it."
"They all brought very different insights because of their various backgrounds," Korbin Niehaus, freshman in political science who attended the panel, said. "It was interesting to see how some of them had differing opinions, but they all agreed on major points and issues that our institutions need to change or adapt to."
"What was really interesting was how surprising it was to see people that were really politically moderate and more bipartisan in one place successfully talking about issues in a calm and collected manner," Kathryn McBride, freshman in biology who also attended the panel, said. "The modern media makes politics seem like a bunch of extremists arguing with each other."