Rudeness plagues America.
Nearly 70 percent of Americans, according to a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll, consider people more rude than 20 or 30 years ago. Over the last 20 years, according to two prominent Democratic strategists, Americans engaged in a kind of "great sorting-out" -- staking out hard, well-defined, even intolerant, ideological political camps.
Now it all makes sense -- only one side seems a tad more intolerant than the other.
Take last Friday. After work, I drove to a local watering hole for my customary vodka and cran. A couple of anti-war Democrats and I began talking politics. While I disagreed with their positions, they made sensible, if unpersuasive, arguments. You know the drill: Bush built a case for war on bad intelligence; the cultural complexity of Iraq makes America's "imposition" of a democracy unlikely; the Iraq War now serves as a breeding ground for terrorists; other enemies like Iran and North Korea pose even greater threats to America; etc. But then another man, eavesdropping, decided to join in. Within five seconds, he called the president "an idiot." I let it go. Moments later, however, he changed it to "moron." All right, enough.
"Sir, you don't know me, and I don't know you. You barged into a conversation, not a wrestling match. He gave his view," I said, pointing to another man, "and gave reasons. Calling the president 'an idiot' is not a reason. It is childish and shows your lack of ability to make a sensible argument."
He said, "Well, I'm entitled to my opinion."
"That's not an opinion. It's an attack. And in any case, you're not entitled to have me listen to it. So I suggest you move on and enlighten somebody else."
He glared, but walked away.
Now on to the next day, Saturday. A friend, a decorated Vietnam vet, celebrated his 60th birthday with about 50 festive partygoers. I sat at a table of eight, and someone said something about the president's recent defense of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, calling the battle for her confirmation "uphill." To this, the 60-something woman sitting next to me, with whom, up until this point, I had exchanged pleasantries, suddenly blurted, "Well, I'm from Seattle, and we hate Bush up there -- "
I let it go.
" -- and the thing that we hate the most about Bush is that he claims people shouldn't pay taxes."
All right, enough.
"Excuse me," I said, "can you tell me when the president said, 'People shouldn't pay taxes'?"
"He says it all the time," she replied.