The Virtue of Civility

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Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, came to town recently. You may not have noticed. Unlike President Barack Obama’s February fundraising visit to Corona del Mar, when Republicans in varying states of agitation took to the streets to unwelcome the POTUS, Pelosi’s visit was a quiet one. As was that of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) last October. Schultz is the chair of the Democratic National Committee.

It’s notable that three high-powered Democrats have shown up here in recent months. Yes, it’s a campaign year, but there’s more to it than that. Historically, national party leaders have viewed Newport Beach as pretty much a fly-over zone, with too few Democrats in town to warrant serious efforts to raise money or rally the faithful. After all, Republicans outnumber the city’s registered Democrats by an approximate ratio of 3-to-1. Ditto for the DTS (Decline to State) voters.

Those of us who wear the blue proudly, however, are making ourselves better known. Take Suzanne Savary. A retired associate professor of management communication in the Marshall School of Business of the University of Southern California, Savary was discussing local politics several years ago with a couple of women friends on her Balboa Island patio.

“What, are we the only Democrats in town?” she asked.

They decided to find out and were chartered as the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club in February 2008. I’m a member.

The Club’s primary mission is to support candidates that represent Democratic values. What’s been interesting is to see that independents and moderate Republicans have also joined. At last count, the club has 140 members, and it’s growing month by month.

Savary made sure that the club had another mission, too. During the 2000 presidential campaign, Savary was at her yacht club when she was asked what she thought of Al Gore.

“When I replied that I thought he was a decent, caring man, several individuals made crosses with their fingers at me, as you might see in a vampire movie, and became verbally hostile, instead of calmly sharing why they might not agree with me,” she recalled.

Savary had been raised differently.

“My uncle was a war hero who had been Counsel to the Navy in Congress and was later second-in-command in the Justice Department. He always told us that the ‘American Way’ was for congressmen and senators to debate strongly in the House and Senate, but at 5 p.m., they would throw their arms around each other’s shoulders and go out to dinner together as friends.

“I was brought up by a father who taught me that moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats agree upon 95 percent of their ideals – far more than either agree with their own party’s extremists.

“The single most terrible thing that has happened to American politics in my lifetime was the slash-and-burn, destroy-your-enemy mentality that Newt Gingrich brought to Congress. That attitude continues to prevent our citizens from discussing ideas with respect and civility.”

So the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club’s additional mission is to promote civil dialogue on public issues, with respect and without rancor.

Back to Nancy Pelosi.

Speaking at the Bahia Corinthian Yacht Club as the sun set over the harbor, Pelosi said that she had just arrived from a speaking engagement at Texas A&M, where the George (H.W.) Bush Presidential Library is located. The former president, in fact, had invited her to speak. (Gasps throughout the room.) Pelosi, elegant in a silk pantsuit, explained that she was fairly new to Congress when Bush I became president. The two enjoyed a collegial relationship.

“We had some interactions [and] some disagreements, always with civility. … There was a spectrum [of ideologies] and we worked to find a way to get the job done.”

That, said Pelosi, has been swept away. Indeed, Tea Party rants and Religious Right jeremiads have poisoned our political discourse. Consider these reader responses to the Orange County Register’s online report on Pelosi’s appearance:

“[I]f only she could be convinced brown bags are fashionable headwear,” opined a writer from Lutheran High School of Orange.

“She is the most moronic and criminal politician that most of us have seen,” chimed an office manager at Healy & Associates Law Firm.

“There is so much that I hate about her and the things she is. …. Who said she could come to Newport?” asked a hospital volunteer, and may Pelosi never be a patient at the writer’s workplace.

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Top of Form

BottomDespite the Register’s Reader Comment guidelines – “Keep it civil and stay on topic. … No vulgarity … or personal attacks” – these comments made it through, where they live on. Top of Form

Bottom    As long as the GOP’s anger-mongers hold sway, the tone of our political discourse is not likely to change.

Or is it? Perhaps it can, if local Democrats, joined by moderate Republicans and independents, speak up. Already, they have begun to speak with their wallets, hence the fundraising visits by top-level Democrats. They are speaking out by joining forces with like-minded voters, hence the growth of the Newport Beach Women’s Democratic Club. Hence this column.

Speak up, people – our town, our state, and our country deserve better.

It is the American Way.



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  1. I’ve been a registered Republican for my entire voting life. I’m saddened by the vitriol of pure unthinking hate that pours from the mouths of far too many GOP citizens. I have never expected much in the way of critical thinking from Democrats – they continue to embrace the lofty ideals that are mouthed by their elected officials, but seem incredibly ready to issue excuses for the continued failure of their representatives to live up to those goals. Top Republican figures, on the other hand, play to the fact that the vast majority of their citizens will never bother to check on whether their statements have any credibility. A negative half-truth about their opponent is of much more use to them than the truth about themselves. Both parties seem to operate from a position of immunity to responsibility for their words – even when they do the complete opposite of what they said! But the real problem is not that we have less-than-admirable elected and appointed officials; it is that we are so busy trying to eke out a living that we don’t – or can’t – take time to learn how both parties continue to play only to wealthy re-election donors. We don’t take the time to wonder why we need to drink bottled water, or why words like salmonella, botulism, or mad-cow disease are even in our vocabulary. If the regulations insisted upon by Jefferson, Madison and Ben Franklin had not been so badly eroded or ignored, our air, food and water could not have become so badly polluted. If those same regulations had been enforced, there could not have been those Enron, Madoff, Wall Street and bank disasters that have crippled our economy!