Amid vicious health care fight, USC examines civility and debate

By Jack Kuenzie - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) - COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Whether for the health care reform bill or against, insults have been flying from all sides over the issue. Some say much of what's been said has hit below the belt. That's one reason the subject of civil debate is under study at USC.

Sherwood Toatley has lived with disability for 29 years, most of the time working and paying for his own health care.

Now retired for medical reasons, he's still covered by a COBRA plan. But it's expensive, and Toatley has been hoping for better options under health care reform.

"I wasn't really concerned as much as I am now because my disability has changed," said Toatley.

Toatley says he's encouraged by the bill's passage and signing into law. What appalls him though, is the heated rhetoric, name-calling, threats and division that developed in the process.

"To me, it's hatred," said Toatley. "I was put off by that."

Civil discourse, and how to improve it, has been on the minds of many at the University of South Carolina.

Last year, USC leaders launched a system-wide effort aimed at elevating civil debate in a polarized society.

"The big question for these courses are really how is it that we are able to talk to each other," said Dr. Edward Sanchez, who teaches an honors class on the subject. "I mean, it's about being in a democracy; you have to be able to actually engage other people."

Sanchez says new technologies have made it possible for people with similar views to find each other, band together and attack without listening.

"Everything happens at a very fast news cycle," he said. "Everything is visible. Things that are said that would pass unnoticed are now immediately on the news."

USC this week celebrates its Carolinian Creed, a code of conduct for the university community. Toatley would like to see those principles extend beyond the campus.

"You know, South Carolina has been in the national media enough this past year," said Toatley. "We don't need anything else, you know, to add on to it. We need to come closer together."

Bringing people closer together isn't going to be easy. A new Harris Poll taken just before the health care vote found 57 percent of Republicans believe president Obama is Muslim, and 45 percent think he was not born in the U.S. and is not eligible to be president.     
The poll also says one out of four Republicans surveyed believe president Obama "may be the Anti-Christ." Full results of that poll are expected to be released Wednesday.

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