Sunday, November 20, 2005

Impolite and Impolitic

The relentlessly high-minded George Will writes of the breakdown of manners in society. Is he concerned about the shouts and catcalls on the floor of the House of Representatives? No, it's iPods that catch his ire, by way of praising the new book by Lynn Truss, "Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today, or Six Good Reasons to Stay Home and Bolt the Door."
Her previous wail of despair was "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation," which established her as -- depending on your sensibility -- a comma and apostrophe fascist (the liberal sensibility) or a plucky constable combating anarchy (the conservative sensibility).
Now hold it right there. I'm politically liberal and like to think of myself as pretty good with spelling and punctuation. Precision in language has nothing to do with the labels liberal and conservative. Will continues with the old canard that feminism has destroyed manners:
Furthermore, it is a brave, or foolhardy, man who shows traditional manners toward women. In today's world of "hair-trigger sensitivity," to open a door for a woman is to play what Truss calls Gallantry Russian Roulette: You risk a high-decibel lecture on gender politics.
I'm a fairly polite guy with a taste for the company of smart, independent and politically active women. I have never been lectured for opening a door, but then for me it isn't an expression of condescension, but a simple gesture of consideration. A true gentleman does not make a show of his manners.
During Friday's rambunctious session in the House of Representatives, the body was reminded to "address their remarks to the Speaker and not to other members." The reason for this tradition is to prevent debate from descending into personal attacks and name-calling. The Times profiles how a representative in the middle of the maelstrom earned her nickname:
WASHINGTON, Nov. 19 - She grew up in the rough-and-tumble of a family auto racing business, went through concealed-weapons training, and bears a local nickname seldom applied to shrinking violets: "Mean Jean."
So when Representative Jean Schmidt, an Ohio Republican, created a furor on her 75th day in Congress by lobbing the word "coward" toward a Democratic war hero, those who know her best were anything but surprised.

This is the same Jean Schmidt who won a surprisingly narrow special election against Iraq veteran Paul Hackett earlier this year. Hackett is one of two Democrats running for the Senate next year. If he succeeds, we can hope that he will find the chamber a bit more polite than the House was on Friday.

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