Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Thought about Political Civility

Take a look at Rep. Andrew Weiner on the Rachel Maddow show, commenting on Paul Ryan and Michele Bachmann’s responses to the President’s SOTU Address:



Maybe you appreciate this sort of thing, maybe you don’t. What interests me is that here you have a member of Congress, being interviewed on a major cable outlet in connection with perhaps the most formal occasion on the political calendar. Yet in the course of his remarks, Weiner shifts unself-consciously from standard Democratic talking points to something more like barroom chatter, revealing that Ryan “bummed him out” to the point where he was reaching for a drink and that he thinks Bachmann has plainly lost “contact with the mother ship.” And strangest of all, it doesn’t look like Weiner was trying to give offense—that’s just the way he talks.

Try imagining anything like that coming from a prominent national politician of an earlier generation on national TV. It used to be that, although we suspected that prominent politicians used the same salty language we use to talk politics privately, we expected a little decorum out of them when they spoke publicly. What’s more, we all knew that the applicable rules of decorum varied according to the public context. Any northeastern or midwestern Democratic politician worth his salt, for example, had a different voice for  addressing supporters in a union hall (where it wouldn’t have been out of place to call their boss or a Republican politician a “son of a bitch”) than he used to address colleagues on the floor of the House or the media in Statuary Hall in the Capitol.

What rules apply in the context in which Weiner is speaking? Yes, he’s on national TV, but it’s MSNBC, an outlet on which disparaging people like Ryan and Bachmann is de rigueur. In that respect, it’s a little like an old union hall, except that everything Weiner says will be streaming across the internet in a couple of minutes where conservatives, including Ryan and Bachman, can see it. So what level of formality and decorum is required?   You got me.  By the same token, what rules apply when Sarah Palin posts something on Facebook?  Is "don't retreat, reload" appropriate to the context?  I couldn't tell you.

And neither could Weiner and Palin because there aren't yet any generally recognized rules of decorum for these contexts. So what are we talking about when we deplore their incivility?

3 comments:

Montana said...

Michele Bachmann is like Sarah Palin, Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle and Linda McMahon, they are just not right but funny. I especially like the clip of Bachmann saying that the founding fathers abolished slavery, wow, what a liar, not the first or last time that will happen. Does anyone with self-respect real believe her?

Her response failed to say how we got here from eight years of poor leadership, two wars without end, diminished Civil liberties. Its like she crawl out from under a rock just to complain about our current President. We all know that Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Works started the Tea Party, grasroots, please.

Snarky McSnarksnark said...

What political civility are you referring to, exactly?

"You lie!" civility?

"Barney Fag" civility?

Give me a break. Are you just running out of things to blog about? Anthony Weiner intends to run for NYC mayor, and positions himself appropriately. But there is no culture of "political civility." We are living in an age in which every political norm is crumbling.

Anonymous said...

I assume that when Ron was referring to "political civility," he was talking about what everyone in the media has been talking about incessantly ever since the Tucson tragedy. Even President Obama talked about it in his memorial service speech when he said:

"And if, as has been discussed in recent days, their death helps usher in more civility in our public discourse, let us remember it is not because a simple lack of civility caused this tragedy -- it did not -- but rather because only a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation in a way that would make them proud." (Applause.)

I think the point of the blog post is in the final paragraph: that there aren't yet any generally recognized rules of decorum in today's world.