Bad manners pervade political and nonpolitical activities

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 makes 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 No. 1 prize of the week just passed the rudeness of Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina. He is the congressman 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 about that took major attention away from health care.

Finally by a mainly party-line vote of 240 to 179 the House adopted a resolution saying Wilson had “committed a breach of decorum and 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. More than 200 years ago they resulted in gunplay, when Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton fought a duel over comments Hamilton made that Burr perceived as an insult. Hamilton was mortally wounded and died the next day.

In more recent years, there has been a special animosity to Democrat presidents, as Maureen Dowd points out, “from frothing response from paranoids – from Father Coughlin against FDR to Joe McCarthy against Truman to the John Birchers against JFK 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 and 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.

No. 3 in our rudeness contest is a non-political contestant.

Playing last week in the U.S. 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 10 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 in tennis.

My No. 4 vote is likewise non-political.

The event was the MTV “Video Music Awards,” with a large, noisy audience. The winner was a beautiful blonde 19-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 31-year-old hip-hop artist named Kanye West. 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 about 100 years before we can answer that accurately. Certainly every-day 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.

Henrietta Hay can be reached by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and on the Web at


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