Civility and Uncertainty

You’ve probably heard by now that the vice president, Dick Cheney, used the "F-word" in the Senate, addressed to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy. Cheney has refused to apologize and, on the contrary, said on national television that it made him feel much better to tell Leahy to go F-himself.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t believe the Senate should be used for barroom language, any more than I think the Oval Office should be converted into a whorehouse. I know these are decadent times, but if the politicians in Washington don’t return to traditional civility, they’re not likely to get much done that is worthwhile. We pay them way too much money to tolerate that.

Cheney and George W. Bush are both arrogant men. It’s characteristic of arrogant men to disdain people who disagree with them. Bush seems to add a touch of paranoia and sees people who disagree with him as "enemies." His performance at the recent NATO meeting showed his arrogance. Twice he spoke publicly about something that is none of his business — whether Turkey should be admitted to the European Union. The Europeans were naturally riled up.

America is not part of Europe, and it’s none of our business who does or doesn’t get admitted to the European Union. Of course, Bush was just trying to get his tongue into Turkey’s ears. He knows that the Turks can cause a lot of trouble if the Kurds in Northern Iraq make a move toward independence. The Turkish army would be on them like a fox on a mouse. He also wants to put more American troops in Turkey.

Much later rather than sooner, Bush will eventually figure out that the only powerhouses in continental Europe are France and Germany, the two NATO allies he seems to enjoy insulting. Leave France and Germany out of the fray and there isn’t another country on the continent that could even whip Syria, much less a more powerful country like Iran. Historically, these countries have been rolled over by France, Germany or Russia as if they didn’t even exist. That’s why Bush’s so-called coalition is such a joke.

Well, he’s certainly not a diplomat. He wanted troops, debt reduction and money from NATO allies, and all he got was a vague promise to train some Iraqi security people.

I sort of think the man no longer enjoys being president. If you watch him while he’s walking or just sitting somewhere, unaware of the camera, more often than not he wears a frown as if he were angry or annoyed. That’s too bad. I would think being president would be a fun job, but perhaps he’d rather be back at his ranch.

At any rate, civility, or the lack thereof, is a serious matter. Civilization is a thin veneer. We all have a bit of the beast lurking just below the surface. That’s why it takes a deliberate effort to remain civilized, and a huge part of that is courtesy.

Courtesy is like the oil of human relations. It allows us to mix together and get our business done without having four fistfights and shootouts every week. You don’t have to like somebody to be courteous. You don’t have to agree with the person. In the Old South, men would be courteous to each other even when one of them was challenging the other to a duel to the death.

Perhaps we ought to resurrect those ancient concepts of lady and gentleman. A little more formality wouldn’t hurt us, because heaven knows we’re about as informal as a people can be without walking about nude and sharing fire hydrants with dogs.

I don’t know if Cheney should apologize to Leahy, because I don’t know what, if anything, Leahy said to provoke him. But the vice president ought to apologize to the American people for demeaning the office. After all, the office belongs to the people, not to Cheney.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.