If you've been paying attention lately, you may be under the impression that the United States is spiraling into mass incivility.
The evidence keeps mounting: Rep. Joe Wilson's yelling. Serena Williams' yelling. Kanye West's ... whatever. All of these uncouth characters have been strung together by critics to establish, indisputably, that there is a societal explosion of boorish and coarse behavior.
On the political front, columnist Kathleen Parker calls this "a political era of uninhibited belligerence." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, lamenting an imaginary climate of violence, wishes "we would all, again, curb our enthusiasm in some of the statements that are made."
Such a preposterous statement should be actionable. Pelosi, who only recently compared her political opponents to Nazis, isn't exactly a paragon of civil discourse. American politics always has been unsightly. Most of the time, in fact, far worse than today.
Have we transformed into so brittle a citizenry that we are unable to handle a raucous debate over the future of the country? If things were quiet, subdued and "civil" in America today, as Pelosi surely wishes, it only would be proof that democracy isn't working.
It's no accident, either, that those in power are generally the ones choking up about the lack of decorum. The truth is we could use far less bogus civility in Washington.
Some of us, for instance, would prefer the superb system of debating used by the British Parliament. Watching those foppish MPs holler "poppycock, sir!" at one another during speeches is a pure pleasure. The British trade courteousness for a more productive, more honest and, most importantly, more entertaining debate. (The occasional Taiwanese-style free-for-all parliamentary slap riot wouldn't hurt C-Span's ratings, either.)
Instead, here at home, stilted House rules dictate that a member of Congress may not refer to the government as "something hated, something oppressive." Its members shall not call any unnamed officials "our half-baked nitwits handling foreign affairs," no matter how true the statement may be. And they never, ever can describe the president as a "liar" or a "hypocrite" or claim he is "intellectually dishonest."
It's a miracle anything is discussed, actually.
Obviously, Rep. Wilson broke the rules when he rudely blurted out, "You lie!" The vulnerable souls inhabiting Congress -- people who spend half their lives and millions of dollars smearing political opponents as child-hating, warmongering, brown-shirted socialists -- were profoundly offended by this act of rudeness. For many, it was another sign of the intensifying coarseness in American society.