By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
March 11, 2007
There seems a lack of civility, good manners, decorum and protocol in Washington these days.
And it has spread beyond Washington to the internet and to email onscenities.One side frequently calls the other side names; instead of making organized, logical arguments.
We entered the world of the “blogosphere” on July 4, 2006. In this internet land of people discussing world events, the language we found often is particularly harsh, polarizing and nasty.
Former President Bill Clinton entered (or re-entered depending upon your point of view) the fray on Sunday, September 24, 2006, during an interview with Chris Wallace on the Fox News Sunday show. Associated Press writer Karen Matthews, reporting on the exchange, called it “combative.”
That’s not a word usually associated with a president during a media interview. I can’t think of that word ever applied to an ex-president during a media exchange — especially with a president.
This may just qualify Mr. Clinton for another description: “not presidential.”
Clinton accused host Chris Wallace of a “conservative hit job.” Not presidential at all. He seemed to be just venting rage. Who needs that?
Did president Clinton miss a memo about letting others mix it up in public with the opposition and their media? Even my Vietnamese-born wife observed: “Good thing Clinton didn’t interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox. It might have ended up with Bill and Bill on the floor slugging each other.”
It is bad enough we have to hear the president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “talking smack” as they say, at the United Nations; now we have to hear it from a former President of the United States? Makes one wonder what side is Bill Clinton on? And why does he see a need to lower himself to the level ofHugo Chavez and Iran’s Ahmadinejad?
On President Bush’s trip this week to South America, not only has he refrained from talking about Mr. Chavez: he has refused to mention him by name.
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.
And sometimes, the media, maybe unintentionally, magnify the animosity.
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?
Candidate for president John Edwards recently defend his own bloggers for their use of “the most hate-filled, blasphemous and obscene remarks—all of which were brought to the attention of Edwards—that have ever been written by any employee of a presidential candidate,” according to the Catholic League of the United States.
In other words: a new low.
Opposite Mr. Edwards, we were delighted to see Governor Bill Richardson call for civility among the national candidates.
Senator James Webb, a former Marine and Secretary of the Navy, met the President of the United States in November. Maybe Mr. Webb was a little too taken with himself after beating Senator Allen in the election. Whatever the reason, news papers reported that Mr. Webb, while a guest at the White House, ”tried to avoid President Bush,” refusing to pass through the reception line or have his picture taken with the president. The president had to seek out the illusive Mr. Webb, a guest inside the Executive Mansion.
“How’s your boy?” President Bush asked the Senator then elect, referring to Webb’s son, a Marine serving in Iraq.
“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” Webb responded, echoing a campaign theme.
“That’s not what I asked you,” Bush said. “How’s your boy?”
“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,” Webb said coldly, ending the conversation on the State Floor of the East Wing of the White House.
When Webb was asked about the apparently rude response to a question from the President of the United States, he responded by saying, “So I know the drill. I’m looking forward to working with people in this administration.”
The language and smart remark to the President of the United States, and the host of the event in his own residence, seems an insult to me and not an indicator of someone eager to work with the opposition. It is not the language of a gentleman.
“I’ve got good friends on the Republican side,” added Webb, a former Republican.
I would say, apparently, that Senator Webb does not know the drill: at least the drill taught to the leaders of Communist Vietnam, where the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Vietnam held a cordial discussion in November or at the United States Naval Academy, Webb’s alma mater, where many of America’s finest young men and women are taught to behave in a certain matter and make the case cogently and without obscene language or smart remarks.
We can assure readers that at the Naval Academy, midshipmen are instructed to conduct themselves as gentlemen and gentlewomen.
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,” said Mr. Hamilton.
I cannot ever recall seeing Gerald Ford, out late president whom we honored last December, look mean, uncivil, rude or terribly angry.
Neither can I remember John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan (”The Great Communicator”), George H.W. Bush, or George W. Bush look petulant, angry or rude. I also cannot recall any of them knowingly 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 leaders become enlightened enough to avoid the forces that can destroy them. For our sake and the sake of our children. Especially as we in the United States near an important national election.
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.
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.
I am be wrong but that’s how we see it.
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