In a nasty campaign, can politicians play nice?

(CNN)I laughed when I first heard about the National Institute for Civil Discourse — a nonpartisan research center born at the University of Arizona to literally civilize the level of conversation in American politics, media and culture.

“So, you teach everyone how to be nice?” I asked Ted Celeste, a veteran Ohio lawmaker who created this “Institute of Nice.”


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“Well, nice is a part of it,” he told me with a smile. “It’s about being able to disagree, but not be disagreeable, to not call each other names.”
Oh, please.


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Hayes, a Democrat, told me that simply hearing personal stories shattered her assumptions about a Republican colleague. Today, instead of avoiding eye contact when she sees him, she doesn’t hesitate to “walk over and hug him.”
“The Institute isn’t interested in doing away with partisan politics,” said Republican lawmaker, Matt Pouliot, from Maine’s 86th District. “It’s OK to be partisan. Civility does not mean agreement. Being civil does not mean being passive, he said. “[But] it’s also important to see the world through someone else’s lens.”
Maine lawmakers have even organized yearly bus trips so that legislators can visit one another’s districts. Some lawmakers in Maine’s Senate, including its Republican president, now wear a civililty pin. And, just a few weeks ago, the legislature passed a “civility resolution.”
It’s all beautiful music to Ted Celeste and his National Institute for Civil Discourse. But is it the start of something big? Will civility sweep the country in the midst of one of the meanest presidential elections in history?
I respectfully disagree if you say that it’s impossible.

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