The White House press office is now Miss Manners' office. President Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, took to the television airwaves this week to criticize congressional town hall protesters for "yelling." Gibbs' underling, Bill Burton, chastised voters not to "disrupt" and "scream." Instead, he advised America to engage in a "spirited debate about health care, a real vigorous conversation about it."
What constitutes "spirited"? How do they define "vigorous"? When does forceful dissent become intolerable disruption? Herewith, the Obama Etiquette Czar's Official Rules for Patriotic Protest. Keep this guide with you at all times to avoid being flagged by the Democratic politeness monitors.
-- No shouting. Congressional representatives cannot sell Obamacare with mobs of unruly senior citizens and small-business owners interrupting to press them on specific sections of the bill. Limit your objections to a library whisper and only challenge your lawmakers with hushed, dulcet tones. Otherwise, you will scare them, and they will be forced to hide behind teleconference calls, sick children at hospitals or union bosses.
If, on the other hand, you are attending a presidential town hall to show your affection and approbation, "spirited" chanting is acceptable.
Don't: "HANDS OFF HEALTH CARE!" and "READ THE BILL!"
Do: "I LOVE YOU, BARACK!" "AMEN!" and "YES, WE CAN!"
Also permitted: Shouting at historic inaugurations to protest war (as legions of Code Pink activists did in 2005 during the president's address) and shouting, "We didn't cross the borders, the borders crossed us!" to protest immigration enforcement (as thousands of illegal alien supporters did during raucous rallies in 2006).
Do refrain from boisterous shrieking against those who accuse you of lacking patriotism -- unless you are Hillary Clinton, who bellowed at the top of her lungs in 2003:
"I am sick and tired of people who say that if you debate and you disagree with this administration, somehow you're not patriotic. We should stand up and say we are Americans and we have a right to debate and disagree with any administration."
-- No laughing. Snickering at proponents of nationalized health care is rude, bordering on political terrorism. Stifle all derisive chuckling at bogus statistics and denials that Obamacare will lead to long lines and rationed care. That would be "evil-mongering," as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put it on Thursday.
If, however, you are a member of Congress confronted with silly questions about whether you have read the bill, feel free to giggle. For tips on executing acceptable levels of cackling, take a cue from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. "If every member pledged to not vote for it if they hadn't read it in its entirety, I think we would have very few votes," Hoyer told CNSNews.com while choking back laughter after a recent news conference. "I'm laughing because a) I don't know how long this bill is going to be, but it's going to be a very long bill." Tee-hee-hee.
-- No Nazi comparisons. References to fascism are ugly and un-American. Swastikas have no place in debates about nationalizing 20 percent of the economy. Swastikas may, however, still be used as substitutes for the "S" in "BusHitler" and tattoos on the forehead of Darth Cheney.
-- No boorish questions. "Real vigorous conversation" requires town hall attendees to formulate queries that will encourage true debate. This is not the time to ask why Congress won't subject itself to the health mandates it wants to foist on every other American. This is not the time to ask how the White House will pay for the massive Obamacare bureaucracy without raising taxes on the middle class. The White House endorsed model citizen questioning at its East Room health care town halls in March and July, including this:
"Hi, Mr. President. I'm a member of SEIU, and I'm down here in Fairfax County working on Change That Works. What can I do, as a member of the union, to help you with your reform bill?"
-- No mean signs. That 11-year-old daughter of a Massachusetts Obama donor and campaigner who was randomly chosen to criticize the scary posters held up by town hall protesters in New Hampshire was right. "Mean" signs are, well, mean. Never mind the placards that blared "Bush is the only dope worth shooting" in Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco and the assassination art depicting former President Bush with a gun to his head in Chicago. "Obama is a socialist" is a sign too far and cannot be tolerated in a civil society. Period.
Instead, print out the "STAND UP FOR HEALTH REFORM" signs helpfully produced by Obama's Organizing for America, and burn your "Don't Tread on Me" flags. Such rebellious sentiments are dangerous incitements to violence.
To those of you who can't abide by The Rules: Shhhhhhhhh.