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A Lesson in Civility: Sen. Carl Levin at the 2018 Detroit Policy Conference

With former Senator Carl Levin as the honorary chairperson, the 2018 Detroit Policy Conference focused on how to create a culture of civility. In a 32-minute conversation with WDIV-TV anchor Devin Scillian, Levin shared his observations on national politics and how the Senate can force compromise to advance policy that moves the country forward.

Included here are a few excerpts, edited for length and clarity.

THE “STENNIS RULE” 

“(Sen. John Stennis) taught me to always give the other fellow some ground to stand on, even if you have the votes and don’t need to give him the ground – do it any way. He’ll be there to respect you one day. And it’s a better way to live, it’s a better way to work, and it’s a better way to get things done.”

CIVILITY HELPS GET THINGS DONE 

“If you are going to be in public office and hope to get things done that can get done and must get done, like (passing) a budget, you have to figure out a way to work together … Civility contributes to working together.”

IGNORING INCIVILITY AND ATTACKS 

“One of the real ways to produce incivility is to attack people’s motives, to assume the other person has bad motives, instead of assuming they have good motives. You may disagree totally with them, and if they personally attack you, civility requires you to ignore it and not engage in any kind of personal attacks.”

GOVERNING THROUGH COMPROMISE 

“If you’re not there (in Washington) to compromise, you’re not there to govern.”

BIPARTISAN FACT-FINDING 

“If you treat people in a civil way and mean it – and don’t attribute bad motives to other folks that you’re working with or have differences with – civility can lead to and probably is essential to leading a bipartisan approach to a factual investigation. If there’s a lack of civility, then it is less likely you are going to be able to do some things together which are critically important.”