Civility is not about ‘political correctness,’ it’s good manners

Robert Houk • Jul 22, 2013 at 9:18 AM

The flap over the so-called “nuclear option” in the U.S. Senate last week is just another example of how dysfunctional things have become on Capitol Hill. We’ve come to expect Democrats and Republicans not playing well together in Congress, but now it appears things are getting a little uncivil within their own partisan ranks.Roll Call reported Tennessee’s own Sen. Bob Corker became a little indignant with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell during a GOP caucus meeting on Wednesday when the Kentucky senator suggested he was kept in the dark about the finer points of negotiations between some of his Republican colleagues and Democratic leaders.Democrats had threatened to invoke the nuclear option (which would change Senate rules by a simple majority vote) unless Republicans agreed to allow votes on President Obama’s executive nominees. Under a truce hammered out by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, Republicans agreed to allow votes on seven of Obama’s nominees with the understanding the president must replace two of his nominees to the National Labor Relations Board with other candidates.McConnell said he believed he could have brokered a much better deal for Republicans had he known all the details. It was at this point, according to Roll Call, that Corker called “bull****” loud enough for the entire room to hear.If only lawmakers here and in Washington could follow the example of two women I told you about a few years ago, who meet at least weekly for coffee and conversation. They have known each other for more than 50 years. These ladies have been there for one another through times good and bad.One is a daughter of a GOP patriarch and has always voted Republican. The other is a Democrat, and she still sings the praises of FDR and the New Deal. On paper, these two women should have little to agree on, which would be true if their conversations focused solely on politics. I would wager, however, that politics is rarely discussed. These ladies prefer to talk about family and their shared life experiences — a welcomed common ground.As I noted then, their story is similar to that of Hollywood legends Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda. Stewart was famously conservative, while Fonda was not. The two never discussed politics. Instead, Stewart and Fonda often spent long hours together silently building model airplanes.Speaking of Stewart, one of my favorite scenes in “Harvey,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play that Stewart starred in on the big screen, finds his character Elwood P. Dowd repeating something his mother once told him: “ ‘In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”That’s still good advice regardless of where you live or work. There are many Americans who follow this advice. They don’t pick silly fights with their friends or coworkers. The critics might say that is just “political correctness” run amok. I would argue it’s just good manners.And you may quote me.Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at rhouk@johnsoncitypress.com.

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