"Civility" is not a word I normally associate with "politics." That's why I wonder what kind of nominees the city of Madison will get for its first Jeffrey Clay Erlanger Civility in Public Discourse Award. Nominees are due by Nov. 15 and the award will be handed out a few weeks later.
Erlangler, who died unexpectedly this summer at the age of 36, was truly a model of civility. He worked as a tireless advocate for people with disabilities. And he never seemed frustrated by the glacial pace of progress -- even when he had just cause, such as the year he spent trying to convince Mayor Dave Cieslewicz to hold a conference on accessible housing. Erlanger could have complained, but didn't. The mayor was simply busy, he told me, and would get around to it eventually. And he did -- the conference was held this April, shortly before Erlanger died.
There are a few people like Jeff Erlanger still around. Former Ald. Judy Olson springs to mind. I only saw her get upset once -- when she learned that Willy Street would be losing its neighborhood officer. But when I called her up to ask her about it, she seemed embarrassed by her anger. Olson was simply too classy to stay mad for long.
Unfortunately in politics, it's easier to find the uncivil person. And my nominee for Incivility in Public Discourse would likely be former Dane County Board supervisor (and current Isthmus and The Daily Page contributor) Dave Blaska. He's a smart guy. He may even have reasonable arguments on the issues of cutting taxes, addressing crime and the like. But I couldn't tell you what they were. All of his columns seem so gleefully full of meanness and spite, I have trouble reading them.
In his first item on The Daily Page, Blaska referred to the Left's "paranoia," pegged homeless activist Kristen Petroshius as a "destructive pest," and mocked Cindy Sheehan, the grieving mother who became an anti-war activist after losing a son in Iraq.
I know it's become fashionable for both the Left and the Right to belittle each other, but I'm not sure it does anyone, anywhere, any good. Blaska has criticized the unions for shouting down speakers at a recent anti-tax rally, noting "the brute club has replaced the sharp stiletto in our public discourse."
Funny, I could make the same argument about Blaska's insult-laden columns. A little more subtlety, a little more civility, and you might win a few more people to your side.
Or even an award.