April 11, 2011 in Features

Miss Manners: Rude politicians continue behavior that won voters

Judith Martin, United Feature Syndicate
 
On the Web

Visit Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com, where you can send her your questions.

DEAR MISS MANNERS – The rudeness and bad manners that members of Congress engage in has gone too far. I do not believe any of those truces will last a week. What we need is a congressional etiquette czar. The czar would need to be given the power to sanction and fine members of Congress for any lapse in polite exchanges.

I would expect that a complete change in behavior will take time. A penalty and the embarrassment of having their manners called into question may start to alter the current misbehavior.

What do you think? Your country needs you.

GENTLE READER – With gratitude and humility, Miss Manners must confess that she already has a (self-created) job as etiquette czarina of the nation, legislators not excepted. She also notes that the U.S. Congress already has its own particular etiquette rules and enforcers.

So why aren’t things working better?

There are two standard answers in regard to legislative rudeness:

First that it has ever been so, an assertion bolstered by examples from history of actual violence among members of Congress. This is true, although it is also true that the general level of business was conducted with more grace, and even hostility was expressed less crudely and more formally.

At any rate, Miss Manners does not believe that bad behavior in the past justifies giving up on improvement.

The second argument precludes any hope for improvement because the members hold strong, basic disagreements. Right. We call that the two-party system of government.

But far from inhibiting declarations and defenses of positions, or, more importantly, the exchanges of ideas necessary to arrive at workable agreements, etiquette is what makes all this possible. When insult and invective is what is exchanged, nothing gets accomplished. That is why parliamentary rules – the etiquette books of any such bodies – forbid personal attacks.

So – how do we stop these if parliamentarians and the presiding officials wielding gavels are unable to do so?

It is called an election, folks.

Miss Manners reminds you that every rude person in Congress was elected to that office. This is why she feels it urgent to point out the fallacy of voters who believe that candidates who refuse to deal politely with their opponents make effective leaders. By showing contempt for those who disagree with them and by declaring a refusal to compromise, such candidates clearly demonstrate their inability to cope with a system that requires respect and cooperation.

Yet Miss Manners understands why those who are elected using that style of campaigning persist in behavior that has proved so successful at the polls. They must have pleased the voters, they figure, because they won. They cannot fail to be puzzled when the constituents who elected them start characterizing them as those rude politicians.

Hence her warning is to the voters: If you don’t want badly behaved people in office, do not vote for badly behaved candidates.

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