Copyright © 2009 Henrietta W. Hay
Rudeness in Public Life
September 25, 2009
I have never been one of those who say "Give me the good old days." I was always curious to see what was ahead. But this year I think a little more old fashioned courtesy would be welcome.
We are as a nation, going through a stretch of bad manners that make the good old days look pretty good.
Bad manners are not the exclusive province of Washington, D.C.,of course. But I nominate for the number one prize of the week just passed the rudeness of Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina. He is the wacko who interrupted President Obama's speech to the joint session of congress with a loud shot of, "You lie."
Rep. Wilson apologized to President Obama - sort of. But he refused to apologize to his fellow members of Congress. His real offense was failing to maintain proper order in the House.
Six days of partisan bickering took major attention away from health care.
Finally by a mainly party line vote of 240 to 179 the House voted that he had "committed a breach of decorum ad degraded the proceedings of the joint Session to the discredit of the House." Wow. You can yell at the president, but not during a Joint Session in the House.
Of course there have been some pretty bad instances of bad manners in our past. 200 years ago they resorted to gun play when Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.
In more recent years, there has been a special animosity to Democrat presidents, as Maureen Dodd points out, "from frothing response from paranoids - from Father Coughlin against F.D.R to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against J.F.K. and the vast right-wing Conspiracy against Bill Clinton."
Mr. Wilson had a legal right to call the president a liar, even though the president was not telling a lie. The first amendment gave him that. But - freedom of speech demands that the speaker accept the consequences.
The second prize for rudeness goes to the Birthers and the Tea Partiers and all the other groups that have manufactured nasty names to call the president and encouraged turmoil in the country.
I didn't like Mr. Bush's policies, but I honestly believe the worst name I ever called him was "Shrub." This current president is being attacked as Hitler, foreigner, Nazi, socialist, the anti-Christ, the cad who would snuff old people.
There is even an organization called the League of American Voters. It is attacking the League of Women Voters, a 90-year-old membership organization that is one of the most trusted nonpartisan voices in the United States.
Number three in our rudeness contest is non-political.
Playing last week in the French Open Tennis Tournament, Serena Williams indulged in her love of drama. Playing against Kim Clijsters she thought that a call against her was wrong. She leaped in the air and came down running toward the judge who had made the call, waving her arms and shouting. I didn't count them, but there were at least ten bleeps audible in the television record. I don't know exactly what the bleeps covered up, but I am sure they could not be said on the air. And we can be sure they were very bad manners.
Swearing and yelling and jumping up and down are not done at Wimbledon
My number four vote is likewise non-political.
The event was the MTV "Video Music Awards" (VMA) with a large, noisy audience. The winner was a beautiful young blonde19 year old singer named Taylor Swift. She was the first country artist to get the best female video award. The audience was cheering and she was making her acceptance speech when another artist (male) came up on the stage and grabbed the microphone out of her hand. He angrily announced that another performer should have won. He is a hip hop artist whose name is Kayne West. He is 31 years old. He was immediately hauled off the stage, and has since apologized, but that kind of rudeness is not accepted even from a hip-hop singer.
Is the American culture really changing? It will be about100 years before we can answer that accurately. Certainly everyday manners have changed. We are more relaxed, and we are living in a technological world but does that mean we are less respectful of others?
Time will tell, and I am still curious to see what is ahead.