Another Perspective

Civil Rites

Civility is the last refuge of an aggressor.

By 1.28.11

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Civil service jobs have gone federal, we hear. Henceforth the only allowable difference between two parties is the color of party hats. Old rivalries must be put on ice for the arrival of a nice new era. The state of this new union was modeled during the State of the Union address, when opposing members of Congress (Motto: You do the work and we send you a bill) sat alongside each other with no man being an aisle unto himself.

This reminds me of a story from 1990, when I was living in Jerusalem. At the time I was serving as an adviser on ethics and public relations to the Jewish Student Information Center. This organization provided then, and continues to provide now, a spectacular service where tourists and college students from any religious background can join a Jewish family for a free Sabbath meal. Every Friday night and Saturday morning a large cluster of such visitors, generally about a hundred people, gather near the walkway to the Western Wall. Each one is given a placement card with the address of their host family, somewhere within a mile radius from that spot.

Because thousands flock to the Wall for prayers at those times, this process is highly visible, giving a lot of free publicity to JSIC which other charities covet. Back then, another group hired a new CEO who decided to compete, setting up a parallel operation. Now there were two conspicuous lineups within feet of each other. After a month or two of this, the encroaching organization approached the head of JSIC and proposed a rotation. Each outfit would run the program every second week. There would again be only one cluster, managed by a different crew each week.

The argument the new guy used to make his case for this alternating system was straightforward: "The current competitiveness creates an unseemly appearance of incivility."

As the counselor for JSIC the last word would be mine. "Absolutely not," I said. "Indeed there is incivility here but they are the ones who brought it about. We were here first and there is no reason for us to change." When that CEO could not get his way, he decided he was not benefiting from running a redundant operation, so he pulled out and things went back to their original format.

I see the same thing happening again before my eyes, but this time in Washington D.C. The Democrats are right to say there has lately been a flavor of incivility, but it was they who brought it about. I don't mean they are responsible because they started earlier and nastier, arguably true in itself. My point is that they institutionalized the incivility by passing a transformative law using only the clout of their Congressional majorities. That was the ultimate in uncivil acts.

There has been an unspoken compact in our legislative affairs since time the Democrats found immemorial. One-party majorities may pass small-to-middling bills without cooperation from the other side. As long as they stick with the medium people are not jarred from their tedium. But if they want to change the balance of life in this country with gargantuan juggernaut legislation, they had better be sure to have cooperation from the centrists in the other party. This is civility, respect for the will of the people.

It was the Democrats who chose to impose unilaterally a massive game-changing upheaval in the delivery of medical care in this country. Not only did they disregard the massed forces of the opposition, they disregarded the opposition of the masses. They chose to impose their vision upon the country. This vision was afflicted by astigmatism, which is why they are now being stigmatized. 

They did it not only with disregard, they did it with disdain. Nancy Pelosi marched her cohorts defiantly down the street, wielding her gavel. It was an ugly moment of raw power-grabbing, a hubristic dismissal of the public weal. Not surprising that the whipping-boys have turned around to raise a weal or two with their own whips. She was the general who cussed her last stand and now her bull is sitting where it belongs.

The Party of Lincoln should be civil, I say, but they must still win the war. Beat 'em up without drubbing them the wrong way. Don't throw out the injury with the insult. We can hold a tea party without teasing the other party. Forgo the last laugh if you will, but be sure to get the last word.

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About the Author

Jay D. Homnick, commentator and humorist, is a frequent contributor to The American Spectator.