Congressional (In)Civility with a Money Connection

You may be surprised to learn that there actually is a Congressional Civility Caucus. Today NPR’s Morning Edition featured a story on incivility at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, which draws together family members who do not necessarily see eye to eye on matters of politics, life style, etc. The story’s civility consultant was Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican.

[Rep. Capito] is the co-founder of the House Civility Caucus, a group she began along with Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, “to try to bring to Congress respectful and civil debate,” she tells NPR’s Steve Inskeep.

“I think we both recognize that the language, the disrespect and the volume is too high, and too cutting,” Capito says. “So we’re trying to reach across the aisle; we’ve had a couple of breakfasts, to just get to know each another a little bit better.”

The caucus is described in a Politico article by Reps. Capito and Cleaver. Published in January 2011, the article notes that the caucus was originally formed in 2005. In the six years since then, the tenor of Congressional debates has shown regrettably little evidence of its effectiveness, and the article implies that the caucus has been more of an aspiration than a reality:

We have now made a commitment to reignite our efforts to establish a Civility Caucus in Congress.

In the Morning Edition story (the audio, not the text), Rep. Capito concedes that the Civility Caucus has no official members, and has “perhaps 30 or 40 members who have joined in with us.”

A more recent interview with Reps. Cleaver and Capito indicates that civility is not hot:

Cleaver admits that the initiative has proven a tough sell in a legislative body that rewards straight party-line votes and verbal pugilism. Some colleagues have rebuffed Cleaver’s initiative as starry-eyed while others have questioned his mettle. “We haven’t had to hire any new receptionists to handle all the phone calls and applications to join,” he has lamented.

A most interesting angle is Rep. Cleaver’s contention that there’s a connection between rancor and lucre:

Often, when a congressperson goes on a tirade, he or she can pretty much count on raising large sums of money. Some send out fundraising letters right after appearing on the news.

Once again when you dig for a political problem’s root, what you find is the pursuit of campaign cash.

About Hamilton Richards

I retired in 2006 as a Senior Lecturer in Computer Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin. These days I volunteer technical support for Citizens' Climate Lobby (Austin chapter), Common Ground for Texans, (, Integrity Texas (, and several friends.
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