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News Story
Updated: 11/01/2012 08:00:05AM

Is civility dead?

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S.L. Frisbie

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A friend asked me the other day what I thought of the presidential debates.

I replied that all three were ties, in my judgment: both candidates lost all three debates. In fact, the moderators were failures, too, especially in the second debate, when the moderator abandoned any pretense of impartiality and took Obama’s side in an argument with Romney.

All three moderators lost control almost from the beginning, allowing candidates to repeatedly interrupt each other and ignore their time limits.

I expect more from people who aspire to the highest office in America and arguably the most powerful job in the world.

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I would suggest that there are three levels of impropriety in campaign rhetoric: stupid, then rude, then crude.

Stupid is at the bottom of the list, and can be used to describe Romney’s “47 percent” comment, which has been quoted endlessly throughout the campaign. That it was recorded surreptitiously does not excuse or explain the remark.

Stupid remarks can be found in many campaigns, and though I blush to admit it, in an occasional newspaper.

One step up the ladder comes rudeness, which carries a higher degree of culpability because it is intentional. Interrupting or out-shouting an opponent goes beyond stupid. It is rude.

And at the peak of the pyramid comes crudeness, which often involves a melding of stupidity and rudeness.

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The press has taken only casual notice of two recent instances of crudeness in the presidential campaigns.

A few days ago, Eva Longoria, who carries the title of co-chairman of Obama’s campaign, tweeted this comment to 4 million or so of her closest friends:

“I have no idea why any woman/minority can vote for Romney. You have to be stupid to vote for such a racist/misogynistic ****” I refuse to use the last word, or even enough letters for you to figure it out for yourself.

Even some Obama supporters labeled it as crude.

In the brief report of her declaration, NBC said she apologized for her comment.

Actually, she said she was sorry “if people were offended.” That hardly qualifies as an apology, and apparently the campaign has not disavowed the statement by one of its high profile spokesmen.

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Though arguably a little less crude, Obama told an interviewer from Rolling Stone, “Kids have good instincts. They look at the other guy (Romney) and say, ‘Well that’s a bull*****er. I can tell.’”

Oh really, would that be the president’s kids?

Most children of my acquaintance think they are really daring when they say “poop.” The day will come, of course, when many of them will become a little more adept at crude language, though hopefully they will stop short of Eva Longoria’s epithet.

There is no question that men (thus far) who seek or hold the presidency are capable of using salty language (a skill in which I myself am reasonably proficient), and I do not fault them for it.

But to embrace, or engage in, public use of crude language to describe one’s opponent, and especially to say that little children are doing the same, brings discredit to the office of president.

Civility is not too much to expect from the White House.

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(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He has been known to say that he can out-cuss most people he knows in both English and Spanish, and most important, that he can do so without taking God’s name in vain. He said that before he read Eva Longoria’s sobriquet.)




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