By John E. Carey
September 14, 2006
Demonizing the opposition candidate, party or political position seems a simple minded way to make points with the unthinking and ignorant. It is, we think, a symptom of an inability or unwillingness to take positions head-on, make logical and informed debate and martial evidence.
Demonizing the other guy or his views is easy. Taking hard positions on difficult issues is not.
So we are mired in a lack of civility, good manners, decorum and protocol in Washington and where ever voters gather this election season.
One side frequently calls the other side names; instead of making organized, logical arguments.Even reporters and what our British colleagues sometimes derisively, though correctly call “news readers,” are getting into the act.
An exchange between President Bush and the Today show’s Matt Lauer on the anniversary of 9/11 caused a flurry of discussion on some web sites. Mr. Lauer seemed to have an aggressive, even badgering tone with the president as the two stood in the Oval Office discussing 9/11 and other issues of the day.
Mr. Lauer repeatedly gestured in an aggressive way, almost sticking his finger in the president’s chest.On Sunday, September 10, 2001, on Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Democratic National Committee Chairman and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean if he would now apologize to Karl Rove.
It seems, despite Mr. Dean’s accusations that Mr. Rove was the leaker in the Valery Plame escapade, that Richard Armitage was the unfortunate and inadvertent leaker.
Gov. Dean answered, “Absolutely not. I still think he should be fired.”
Mr. Armitage apologized in public on TV. Mr. Dean could not.
Does it matter? Sure it does.Thoughtful, courteous national discourse has managed to get us through a revolution against the most powerful nation on the Earth, a War Between the States, two World Wars and other tragedies and trying times.If we can get along, maybe we can discuss the problems and get the best answers.
Maybe a more civil and etiquette-driven discussion of the issues can help us get through the War on Terror.Instead, we have become a nation led by name-callers, insult-slingers and generally rude, angry and impolite representatives.
One is reminded of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote, “It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly...who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly."
Sometimes the media, eager for ratings or perhaps maybe unintentionally, magnify the animosity. This is what many conservatives saw during Matt Lauer's questioning of President Bush on September 11, 2006.
My friend retired Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Peters at The New York Post wonders about "the unscrupulous nature of those in the media who always discover a dark cloud in the brightest silver lining. They are terror's cheerleaders."
What does this teach our children? And does it do us any good?Our American history is full of great men who teach us the importance of good conduct for the common good.
Some say George Washington actually authored “The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour [sic] in Company and Conversation.”
Though not the author, Washington embraced good manners so famously that the “Rules” could easily have been his own creation.
The good manners of John Adams also echo to us through history. With Thomas Paine, Adams watched a young American officer conduct himself less than diplomatically and courteously before the King of France.Adams wrote to his wife, describing the “Man of Choleric Temper.”
Adams said the man “like so many Gentlemen from his State, is abrupt and undiplomatic. Last evening, at a Royal Reception, he confronted His Most Christian Majesty Louis XVI with Words both ardent and impatient, whilst Mr. Paine wrung his Hands at the other man’s lack of Tact. Never did I think that I would see our impetuous Paine so pain’d by another’s want of Courtesy and Civility. To our amazement, however, the King took [the man’s] Enthusiasm in good Part.”
When told one of his generals, John C. Fremont, had been nominated by a group of 400 anti-Lincoln loyalists to run for president, Lincoln opened a Bible and read aloud from I Samuel:22, “And everyone that was in distress, and everyone that was in debt, and everyone that was discontented gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them; and there were with him about four hundred men.”
Modern statesmen pulled the country together, not by tearing others apart or barking at the media, but more often by thoughtful discourse and conduct. “Both Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt operated beautifully on the reporters who surrounded them,” wrote David Keirsey and Ray Choiniere in “Presidential Temperament.”
“Both used the press as if it were their own publicity machine.”
This was largely achieved in a civil, diplomatic style.
A modern day solon of wisdom and truth might be former Indiana Congressman and Democrat Lee Hamilton. Hamilton volunteered some stern remarks about the importance of truth. "Facts are not Republican and they're not Democrat," he said. "They're not ideological. Facts are facts."
I cannot ever recall seeing John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush look petulant, angry or rude. Or terribly distort the facts.
Other great national leaders also reflect respect, even admiration, for the importance of good protocol and decorum.
Winston Churchill described a 1941 university ceremony this way: “The blitz was running hard at that time, and the night before, the raid … had been heavy. Several hundreds had been killed and wounded. Many houses were destroyed. Buildings next to the university were still burning, and many of the university authorities who conducted the ceremony had pulled on their robes over uniforms begrimed and drenched; but all was presented with faultless ritual and appropriate decorum, and I sustained a very strong and invigorating impression of the superiority of man over the forces that can destroy him.”
Let’s hope our leaders become enlightened enough to avoid the forces that can destroy them. For our sake and the sake of our children.
I regret the times that bad conduct, anger and a disregard for etiquette got the best of me. I hope our present day political leaders see the light too.
Karl Rove usually has a wonderful sense for the correct tone to set.
Howard Dean seems tone deaf. But we have hope for his salvation!
To get though the war against terror and to achieve victory, a united, clear-thinking leadership just might be important.
Angry rhetoric and arson with clever words serves no good purpose.