Tonight is the State of the Union Address.  I predict that the two words we’ll hear repeatedly are “civility” and “investment.” The latter has to do with more government spending disguised as “investing in our future.” The former is now the new catchword for politics.

I believe in civility. While I do have a sense of humor and like to poke fun at absurdities in our public life, there’s a line that should not be crossed. The problem is this—that line is subjective. For instance, is this cartoon uncivil?

Or is it simply illustrating the rather rabid rhetoric that has emanated from the Left, not just in the past few weeks, but ever since I can remember? Surely you recall all the Bush hatred, publicly stated. How about the pictures of Bush as Hitler? Go back to Ronald Reagan and we learn that he was a warmonger who loved to starve schoolchildren and throw old people out on the streets.

In the House last week, one Democrat representative made the Nazi connection again. Republicans, he said, are like Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. In what way, you ask? Well, they are lying about healthcare, and that’s the same tactic that Goebbels used. Oh.

One of the positive things about being a historian is that I have studied the political rhetoric found in all periods of American history. What becomes painfully obvious is that the eras of the type of civility urged upon us now have been few. Read the newspapers of the 1790s, for instance, where you see George Washington being called a traitor to his country and accused of trying to set himself as a king. The vituperative language used against Abraham Lincoln is startling, particularly when you consider that a lot of it came from the North, not the South.

The issues I have with the current calls for civility are these: first, the astounding hypocrisy of those who are demanding it; second, the attempt to use that nice-sounding word to undermine genuine debate on the issues. Often, just disagreeing with President Obama makes one a racist or a “hater.” Yet we have to be able to say when we think policies are wrong. How would Patrick Henry fare today?

Kind of weak, isn’t it? I prefer the original.

So, as you watch the State of the Union Address [if you have the stomach for it], watch for those key words, but understand what’s really going on.