It tends to be conservatives who push loudest for civility in public discourse. Given that uncivility is often part of a challenge to the status quo, and given that conservative politics tend to favor the interests of whoever is doing well out of the status quo, a strategy of cabining dissent to means that are less likely to disturb the status quo is a natural and sensible political strategy. (I happen to think civility is a good thing most of the time, but for other reasons; if that happens to dovetail with traditional conservativism, well, that's the breaks.) The strategy runs into some trouble when the conservative movement allies with have-not populists; and it founders when the leadership of the movement is taken over by corporatists and especially by nuts.
Witness the following elements of civil discourse:
- The Bush re-election campaign plans to begin running an advertisement on Friday that questions Senator John Kerry's commitment to American troops in Iraq.
- Senator Bill Frist, shielded from libel law by legislative immunity, accuses Richard Clarke of perjury, a charge now decisively rebutted by Sen. Pat Roberts, the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. (via Mark Kleiman, who is futilely waiting for a retraction.)
- Rush Limaugh suggests that the Clintons could assassinate Sen. Kerry if it he wins the Presidency on a ticket without Sen. Clinton.
Compare to this much more civil and effective use of ridicule.