Paul Greenberg

So I was abashed when my radio host began pressing me for details about the president's sex life. Let it be noted that this was well before that topic had become the subject of false oaths, the impeachment process, and a whole mess of charges about perjury and obstruction of justice, and therefore a legitimate and indeed unavoidable topic of the day's news. Embarrassed, I explained that I wasn't interested, not interested at all, in discussing such a thing. It's hard to imagine a talk-show host taking any such No Thank You for an answer these unembarrassable days, but Mr. Imus did so then. For which this editor is still thankful. It was a different and better, if rapidly deteriorating, culture back then.

We now live in a time when Brother Huckabee - he's a Baptist preacher as well as a politician, a piquant combination - makes a joke about somebody pointing a rifle at a presidential candidate and, though he apologizes for it later, still treats it as just a gaffe.

What really troubles is the Huck's tendency to take a kind of perverse pride in his unfortunate tendency to tell tasteless jokes, as when he just has to add: "And, you know, it wasn't the first dumb thing I've ever said and, let me go ahead and announce on this program, it won't be the last dumb thing I've ever said." He sounded like an incorrigible kid who tends to brag about his screw-ups instead of publicly resolving never, never to indulge in them again.

And, no, Rev. Huckabee, despite what you said in explanation, this wasn't comparable to Ronald Reagan's joking about nuclear war when that president thought he was just testing a mike safely out of public earshot.

Once again, we're confronted with an all too common failing of contemporary American manners: Doesn't anybody know how to apologize any more? That is, by just saying I'm Sorry and stopping there - without having to add the inevitable "but..." and going on to minimize the offense, which only aggravates it.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.