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Glenn Beckers, check out HuffPo, Obama urges at Michigan

At the University of Michigan today, Obama took a shot at the fiery anti-government rhetoric dominating the nation's political debate. But calls for civility can come at a cost.

By Staff writer / May 1, 2010

President Barack Obama gives the commencement address at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Saturday, May 1.

Charles Dharapak/AP

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Saying that fiery anti-government rhetoric embraced by Americans on both sides of the political divide "closes the door ... on compromise," President Obama today urged Americans to try harder to understand their political foes.

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Speaking at the University of Michigan commencement address in Ann Arbor, Obama urged fans of Fox News' Glenn Beck to pop on over to the Huffington Post once in a while. Or put aside the New York Times for a second and check out the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

"It may make your blood boil," the President said, according to remarks made available to the press before the speech. "Your mind may not often be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship."

The national narrative in the media and political circles over today's political rhetoric has focused largely on whether angry statements from right-wing conservatives are bordering on sedition. But while thousands of tea party protesters have peaceably assembled – some legally wearing firearms – attempts to cool the flames by prominent politicians like Obama can have an unintended consequence: further alienating those who feel they have no voice in the political system.

To be sure, Obama has worked to open up the political process – a key to empowering citizens. Today, he urged the passage of the Disclose Act, which would force secretive campaign funders to show their face on political attack ads.

But University of Texas-Austin communications professor Dana Cloud, an expert on political activism, says that equally dangerous as fiery partisan rhetoric is when officials or politicians, by policy or even social pressure, try to impose civility on political protest.

"Uncivil behavior is not unconstitutional," she says. "Defining heckling, for instance, as censorship or any act of incivility as violence is bizarre."

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