Friday, October 12, 2012

Hall of Uncouth: Joe Biden

The most recent enshrinee in my hall of infamy should surprise no one. Last night's performance was truly disgraceful. Have decades of public life not taught the Vice President the fundamental rules of political civility? The honor system demands that one's opponent's ideas be accepted as true and praised as thoughtful, reasonable, and guided by good faith. It is decidedly uncouth to offer rebuttals, which present the public with the unpleasant dilemma of evaluating evidence and reaching informed conclusions. Far better that we be allowed to decide on the basis of manners; the most gentlemanly candidate is certainly the one most suited to govern us. On that score, the Vice President came short of the mark. To wit:

I can scarcely remember such a show of utter disregard for the seriousness and honesty of one's opponent. Thankfully, it appears that our esteemed news media are rallying to the defense of the honor system. With the exception of fellows like Krugman, who may be angling for his own spot in the Hall of Uncouth, a critical mass of our scribes appear to be abandoning the distractions of verifying claims and evaluating policy proposals in favor of contrasting styles. As Brooks tells us,

What do independents want most? They want people who will practice a more respectful brand of politics, who will behave the way most Americans try to behave in their dealings: respectfully, maybe even pausing to listen for a second. To them, Biden will seem like an off-putting caricature of the worst of old-style politics.
This is not just an issue of manners. It is: How are we going to practice the kind of politics that will help us avert the so-called fiscal cliff? How are we going to balance the crosscutting challenges, like increasing growth while reducing long-term debt?
A lot of people will look at Biden’s performance and see a style of politics that makes complex trade-offs impossible.
It doesn't matter if the policy positions staked out by one campaign are incompatible with those staked out by the other, if, for example, one campaign views a social program as essential and another views its abolition as a top priority. It doesn't even matter if compromise is a logical impossibility. Good manners, as this blog has always contended, make for good government. Always, everywhere, and without fail. When journalists focus on style and manners, the public has the best opportunity to choose the best, most gentlemanly candidate. We're all better off for it.

If anything redeems Joe Biden, it's that he did teach a lesson about respect for one's elders.

No one who upholds that timeless virtue can be all bad. Though I am told that I am using the wrong ring-sport for metaphorical purposes. If I were one of the uncouth sort who watches professional wrestling I could better judge the accuracy of this claim.

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