Op-Ed

Ky. Voices: Incivility in public discourse troubling

Georgetown University law student and activist Sandra Fluke is shown during an appearance on the daytime talk show, "The View," Monday, March 5, 2012 in New York. Fluke talked about conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and the comments he made on his program after she testified to Democratic members of Congress in support of a requirement that health care companies provide coverage for contraception. Fluke told ABC's "The View" on Monday that she hasn't heard from Limbaugh since he issued a written apology late Saturday. (AP Photo/ABC, Lou Rocco)
Georgetown University law student and activist Sandra Fluke is shown during an appearance on the daytime talk show, "The View," Monday, March 5, 2012 in New York. Fluke talked about conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh and the comments he made on his program after she testified to Democratic members of Congress in support of a requirement that health care companies provide coverage for contraception. Fluke told ABC's "The View" on Monday that she hasn't heard from Limbaugh since he issued a written apology late Saturday. (AP Photo/ABC, Lou Rocco) AP

One lesson we've learned over our years in public service is that when you have confidence in your beliefs, you don't have to shout others down. You don't need to bully. You don't need to demonize.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh's recent vilification of a Georgetown law school student serves as a reminder that personal attacks are a sign of desperation.

People with sound arguments express opinions with civility. Reactionaries tear others down.

The student, Sandra Fluke, came into Rush's crosshairs after testifying at an informal Capitol Hill hearing on proposed regulations for contraceptive coverage by employer-sponsored health care plans.

By all accounts, the testimony she provided was a civil and respectful expression of her opinions. It was a model case of a student exercising her right to be heard.

It is reprehensible that Limbaugh would respond to a young women's expression of beliefs by characterizing her as a "slut" and "prostitute" to his radio audience.

As disappointing as Rush's comments are, it's equally disappointing that those aligned with his political views remain largely silent. Support for civility in public discourse ahead should come ahead of partisan concerns.

It is heartening that Fluke has responded to Rush's vicious attacks with poise and confidence while urging women to stand up and talk about health care needs.

She has not been bullied into silence. Rush could learn something from her courage of convictions.

Our system is founded on the belief that a robust marketplace of ideas ultimately brings people together and unites us with common purpose. That founding principle is weakened any time character assassination replaces civility in our national discourse.

Only by respecting diverse viewpoints and allowing all voices to be heard will our nation's citizens find the common ground on which to move forward.

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