Jeff Jacoby

"Civility" was a popular buzzword last year when then-Senator Scott Brown and his Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren signed a much-hyped "People's Pledge" to keep third-party advertising out of their rapidly escalating US Senate contest.

"The Senate race in Massachusetts," Fox News cheered, "is going for the civility vote." Springfield's daily paper hailed the candidates' "push for campaign civility," applauding "their efforts to reject the nasty rhetoric spewed by third party groups." A few weeks later, New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal lauded Brown and Warren's "mutual disarmament" pact as heartening evidence that some candidates, at least, would hold themselves to a higher standard of "respect for civility, fairness, and the truth."

As if.

Well before the Senate race ended on Nov. 6, it had become clear that Brown and Warren, like other politicians, were quite ready to blow off "civility, fairness, and the truth" in pursuit of high office. Massachusetts voters who thought the "People's Pledge" would transform the campaign into a cordial Socratic dialogue were swiftly disabused of that idea. Brown pronounced Warren unfit to be a senator because she failed the "test … of character and honesty and truthfulness." Warren's campaign accused Brown of "running a relentlessly negative campaign filled with personal attacks and intentional distortions." His staffers mocked her with "Cherokee" war whoops. Her commercials painted him as hostile to women.

By September, "civility" had given way to a different byword. Far from proving "the nation's most civil political race," CNN reported, the Brown-Warren battle "has morphed into one of the ugliest." BuzzFeed's Rosie Gray, in a story headlined "The Ugliest Campaign in America," concluded that Warren and Brown's pledge had "accomplished roughly the opposite of its goal," driving the Bay State race to an "unusual depth of personal nastiness."

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for