President Obama has been talking a lot lately about what passes for political discourse in Washington -- particularly on cable TV -- and he doesn't think much of it. In fact, he thinks it's damaging.
You know what I think would actually make a difference... I think if everybody here -- excuse all the members of the press who are here -- if everybody here turned off your CNN, your Fox, your -- just turn off the TV -- MSNBC, blogs -- and just go talk to folks out there, instead of being in this echo chamber where the topic is constantly politics...
And that's part of what the American people are just sick of -- because they don't care, frankly, about majority and minorities and process and this and that. They just want to know, are you delivering for me? And we've got to, I think, get out of the echo chamber. That was a mistake that I think I made last year, was just not getting out of here enough. And it's helpful when you do.
A few days before that, he told a House Republican caucus meeting in Baltimore that "just a tone of civility instead of slash and burn would be helpful. The problem we have sometimes is a media that responds only to slash-and-burn-style politics."
And at Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast Obama called for civility, while firmly asserting that there are some positions that lie outside the realm of civil discourse, such as birther conspiracies and the targeting of gays and lesbians.
So what is political discourse like outside the Beltway? Is it about politics, or is it about policies? What are the top issues? And do people with different views talk to each other, yell at each other -- or simply avoid politics altogether? Do they ever find common ground? Or is it like cable?
It seem to me that with the ascendance of an extremist, know-nothing strain of political activism (at least from what we see on cable) civil discourse must be challenging sometimes.
I mean, it's one thing to have a civil argument over, say, the appropriate marginal tax rate or the roll of the federal government in education. It's another thing entirely when one person supports President Obama- and the other thinks he's a socialist, hates white people, and wants "the terrorist to win" -- as 63 percent, 31 percent and 24 percent of Republicans, respectively, asserted in a recent poll.
And how does an African-American deal with people who say they don't think Obama was really born in this country -- even if they insist there's nothing racist about it?
Outside the Beltway, do people ever talk politics at work? Or at parties? Do people interrupt and scream? Do they just shake their heads? Or not say anything. ever again?
Are the arguments over policy, or are they over facts? Has that changed over time?
This won't be even vaguely scientific, I know, but I'd like to hear about your experiences. So tell me some stories. Use the gizmo below: