Where Are Our Manners?

Recent incidents related to the healthcare reform debate have raised public civility as a topic for discussion. Congressman Joe Wilson (R-SC) interrupted a presidential address on healthcare reform to a joint session of Congress to accuse President Obama of lying – a serious breach of House rules.  Some have even wondered if the brazenness is what gave license to Serena Williams and Kanye West for their recent outbursts.

article-1205953-0607f1fb000005dc-274_468x359arlenThe level of public rudeness became particularly apparent during the August Congressional recess when numerous town hall meetings on healthcare reform turned into screaming matches.  Such incidents are typically followed by outrage, the usual YouTube video, an apology and – in some cases – punishment.

Despite his calls for civility at a town hall meeting near Pittsburgh, Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) had a constituent spit on him, was called a liar and had his morals questioned.  The baffled Senator Specter was taken aback when one attendee said “One day God’s going to stand before you, and he’s going to judge you and the rest of your damned cronies on the Hill.  And then you’ll get your just desserts.” He was accusing Specter of being too much in favor of President Obama’s efforts to reform healthcare insurance.

Writing in the Washington Post, Rick Perlstein notes that “The orchestration of incivility happens, too, and is evil.  Liberal power of all sorts induces an organic and crazy-making panic in a considerable number of Americans, while people with no particular susceptibility to existential terror – powerful elites – find reason to stoke and exploit that fear.  And even the most ideologically fair-minded national media will always be agents of cosmopolitanism:  something provincials fear as an outside elite intent on forcing different values down their throats.”

The good news is that Wilson paid a price for his rudeness when the House of Representatives formally reprimanded him.  Specter’s assailant had his 15 minutes of fame.

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