(with sincere apologies to Judith Martin)
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a young woman in my early 20s, a law student at Georgetown University, and I recently testified on Capitol Hill after being denied the opportunity of appearing before a Senate Committee consisting only of men from conservative religious organizations on the proposed contraceptive mandate. Because of this, a well-known conservative talk show host has targeted me for public abuse, calling me a “slut” and a “prostitute” and demanding I make sex tapes so he can view them on-line. I’m stunned and outraged, what should I do?
GENTLE READER: As Miss Manners understands it, the talk-show host in question is notorious for his disgraceful behaviour, and is openly enjoying the appalled reaction by civilized people as being “absolutely hilarious.” Such people are impervious to well-meaning attempts to impart good manners, nevermind instill any sense of humanity or decency. Your best course of action is to continue holding yourself to the standards of civil discourse, and conduct yourself with the same grace and dignity as you have been against misogynistic, vitriolic attacks.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am a Republican presidential candidate who has long been a supporter of a conservative talk show host who recently has been making public denunciations of a young law student who is becoming a champion for women’s health care rights. My demographics with women is flagging, and I’m actively trying to woo the little lady vote. But I don’t want to offend my good friend, the talk show host. I’ve said that he’s being absurd, but that, you know... an entertainer can be absurd. He’s in a very different business than I am. Do you think this response is enough?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners considers slandering a young woman in the most offensive way possible because your ideology is different from hers deserves a far stronger response than calling it “absurd” and following even that weak criticism with the excuse that the talk show host is an “entertainer” and thus somehow exempt from the same expectations of decent behaviour as the rest of us. Unfortunately, I think this reaction shows you are somewhat less than sincere about your disapproval of such egregious behaviour, and most well-bred and sensible women are intelligent enough to realise this. I’m afraid you may struggle in your attempts to persuade women to vote for you, given the lack of genuine ethics and character you continue to exhibit.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I am also a Republican presidential candidate and supporter of the conservative talk show host who humiliated and slandered that young prostit...er... law student. Unlike my Republican Presidential opponents, I’ve chosen to remain above the fray, and have stayed conspicuously silent, particularly since every time I open my mouth, my foot seems to reflexively get stuck between my teeth. But I’m being pressured by Democratic colleagues and even television journalists to speak out against my old, dear friend, and defend some sex-crazed slut I’ve never met and am never likely to meet, considering the vast abyss that exists between my own elite social group and the majority of the unwashed American hoi polloi I’m forced to pretend to empathise with. Is avoiding any further embarrassing gaffes and my “do no harm” strategy likely to help me win my bid to be the Republican challenger?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners has always regarded a “do no harm” attitude to be advisable, but in this particular case, I feel you aren’t so much doing no harm as you are doing nothing at all. Standing by and keeping one’s mouth shut while allowing a member of your social group to savagely abuse an innocent woman is not commendable behaviour, much as watching a thief mug someone in an back alley but doing nothing to help, not even call the police, is not admirable either. It is, in fact, at best a mark of cowardice and at worst a form of tacit approval, which does not bode well for anyone who is seriously considering running for the most important position in our great country. The absence of good manners is as serious a breach of etiquette as blatant bad manners, and shows a lack of judgment on a par with shoving the family dog into a kennel tied to the roof of your car.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I hold a senior position in the government, and am quite proud of my reputation for being brusque, telling my colleagues to “get your ass in line” whenever they disagree with me, or calling the financial rescue plan a “crap sandwich,” the climate bill a “pile of shit,” or letting the President know I was “pissed” he wouldn’t cave in to overhauling the tax code to my liking. I was seriously annoyed by a recent letter by House Democrats urging me to condemn some controversial comment made by my BFF, a conservative talk show host. I had to think about it for a good couple days before I decided to release a press statement through my spokeman saying that I believe the use of those words was inappropriate, as is trying to raise money off the situation. I didn’t even use any swear words, either. So isn’t that good enough?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is naturally not a big fan of profanity, and considers a recurrent potty-mouth to be juvenile behaviour unbecoming a leading member of Congress. But I’d like to address a much more serious failing than your chronic vulgarity; a condemnation of an offending party that then turns it into an attack those defending the injured party is not a condemnation at all. A mealy-mouthed, pathetically feeble reprimand followed on by a hypocritical accusation is not a quality required of a political leader. Perhaps you should consider another line of work where such boorishness is better suited.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m the governor of Arizona who officially greeted President Obama at the airport and handed him a nice letter I wrote myself in my very best handwriting on fancy Executive Office stationery, explaining that while we fundamentally disagree on just about everything I’d like to show him the error of his ways by taking him on a tour of the border, and even said I’d pick up the tab for lunch while we talked about jobs and the economy. But then he brought up my book, in which I repeatedly took potshots at him, writing he publicly mocked our great state, lectured me about immigration reform and he was condescending and patronizing. He said that he didn’t feel I’d treated him cordially! How thin-skinned is that? So, y’know what I did? I told him, “You have one more year!” He’s gonna be a one-term president if I’ve got anything to do with it. That uppity man needed to be reminded he’s not a king lording it over state governors, how dare he have the audacity to sue me and Arizona in my efforts to protect our country from brown peopl... er... illegal immigrants! Then some pesky photographer took a picture of me jabbing my finger in the President’s face while we were talking, before he just up and walked away from me in mid-sentence! Well, I would never have walked away from anyone having a conversation like that, it was just so disrespectful! And I even felt a bit threatened, because I mean, y’know how scary black folks get when they’re mad. Now he’s got the chutzpah to say it was no big deal, that it was all just a publicity stunt! How do I tell him this really hurt my feelings, and that he’s a mean, mean man?
GENTLE READER: Miss Manners is somewhat at a loss. Although I agree that some startlingly impolite dialogue did occur, I think it would likely fall on deaf ears should I point out a gracious hostess does not stick fingers in the face of a guest, or that President Obama behaved with remarkable restraint, all things considered. But somehow I think the concerns you’ve described are beyond the purview of an etiquette expert. Perhaps you might want to seek out the services of a good psychiatrist?
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m a Republican Congressman from Oklahoma who recently said that I’d like to hold a gun to the heads of my political opponents in the House and maybe kill a couple of them, even emphasising my comment by making a gun with my fingers in case anyone didn’t get what I was saying. I, like the Speaker of the House, used an intermediary and sent my spokeman to deliver an apology. He said I offered my sincere apologies to anyone I offended and for using a poor choice of words to make my point – which is that Senate Democrats are refusing to pass a budget while I’m feeling the pain of millions of Americans. But I’m still catching flak. Why won’t anyone accept my apology?
GENTLE READER: Because it wasn’t a real apology! Miss Manners is deeply puzzled why that’s such a hard concept for some people to grasp. When Kansas House Speaker Mike O’Neal apologised for comparing Michelle Obama to the Grinch, he said ‘to those I have offended, I am sorry, that was not my intent.’ That is not an apology! One apologises for having committed an offence, not for how it makes someone else feel!
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m a chief judge in Montana who recently circulated a racist joke emailed from my official courthouse address to my friends and family, likening President Obama to a dog and deeply insulting to his late mother. I’ve sent apologies via a couple local newspapers, but I’m not really racist, just anti-Obama, and besides, it’s just politics. Hey, I’ve said I’m sorry, do I really deserve calls to step down? I mean, c’mon, it was funny, right?
GENTLE READER: You did what? Oh, for pete’s sake... Miss Manners will try yet again to explain, that wasn’t actually an apology. An apology takes responsibility for the harm you’ve done, rather than trying to explain why it wasn’t really wrong, and deflecting the blame. Telling racist, misogynist jokes is the act of a racist misogynist, not a matter of “politics.” The President and his mother have done nothing, personally or politically, to deserve being ridiculed in such an offensive manner. Moreover, you’re a representative of the federal government, and as such have a duty to behave in a manner befitting a member of the court rather than a sniggering 15-year-old yob telling off-colour jokes to his bonehead friends. The utter lack of prudence, as well as overt disrespect for the office of the President of the United States, clearly demonstrates your lack of impartiality necessary to remain in a position with the power to pass legal or moral judgment on anyone else, if not at outright violation of federal codes of conduct for which you certainly should resign.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: I’m an unsuccessful GOP candidate for governor in Iowa and a Christian conservative leader who wrote a pledge promoting the sanctity of marriage vows and offered to endorse any Republican candidates who would sign it, as many did, including Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum. But it took some flak over a section that claimed black people born into slavery were more likely to be raised in a two-parent family than an African-American baby born after the election of Barack Obama. I had my spokesman from Family Leaders issue an apology, saying we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be “misconstrued”, which detracts from our much more important mission to declare marriage should be only between one man and one woman. We sincerely apologised for any negative feelings this caused. But them gosh-durned liberals and feminists and gay rights bunch are still complaining! Why are they being so stubborn?
GENTLE READER: Because it wasn’t a real apology! You made a totally inappropriate statement, they didn’t “misconstrue” anything! It’s not a genuine apology if you’re not really sorry, and just keep right on... oh, never mind. Miss Manners knows when she’s flogging a dead horse.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Hello, again. It’s me, the Republican front-runner. I’ve been thinking about your advice on not denouncing my friend for saying mean things about some sex-crazed co-ed, and I’ve decided to come out strongly after all, speaking with passion and conviction from the heart, and said it’s not the language I would have used, but I’d rather focus on, like, the issues and jobs and, y’know, other stuff. Will that work?
GENTLE READER: No. Go away.