Caustic-Free February

There are several writers in the commentariat who at one time or another have said things so revealing of paucity of soul or judgment that I just stopped reading them or reading anything by other people responding to them. It's not animus on my part, merely time management. As soon as I see certain names I know nothing serious, but only self-absorption, will follow, and I look for actual news or ideas.

That people I respect in public life don't do the same utterly mystifies me. Why, for example, anyone pays any attention whatever to the ramblings of the ladies on a little-watched daytime television show like The View I've no idea. I would not know who any of them were, nor have heard of the program, without people I like constantly calling them to my attention. Why their silly utterances are considered worth dignifying with responses and furthering with publicity I can't imagine. Mr. Darcy once knew better than to engage Mrs. Bennett in conversation beyond civil formalities. Today she has a tiny talk show and Mr. Darcy issues breathless point by point refutations, ever in high dudgeon over her follies.

Ordinarily Dana Milbank is one of the creatures on my "Don't Read" list, but his Palin-Free February idea is catching everyone's attention and for once I agree with his general idea --though I suggest it be employed not against Sarah Palin, but against all the habitually petty. I really, really wish my favorite columnists and bloggers would learn from Dana Milbank and quit giving importance to people who never break news or engage any important ideas, but only make catty, self-centered comments.

The tone of our public discourse wears me, but it's not anger that troubles me. Where important matters are at stake, there will be high feelings and frustrations, and sometimes the real trouble is that we are not angry enough -- our senses of justice, liberty and basic decency having been corrupted and our love of the noble seriously debased. I love an elegant polemic, provided it marshals facts into an argument. ("F--- you" does not qualify, nor does "Ha-ha, you misspoke that time.")

What I have no patience for is protracted arguments about unimportant matters, and the tone which now passes for sophistication which is actually more suited to mean teenaged girls and flamboyantly gay men. 

I guess this is actually another Die, Boomers, Die rant on my part. The last two weeks of hostile exchanges about civility have appeared to me utterly detached from reality. The folks in Tucson behaved quite wonderfully, actually --they didn't need a lecture. And civility entails a great deal more than refraining from the argument ad hitleram. It means being the sort of person who, confronted with a tragic death, is capable of an impulse other than, "The world needs me to comment," thus drawing attention away from the dead and grieving and toward the self.

The utter self-absorption and lack of impulse control of the chattering classes who tell us what to think about is what's truly uncivil. I'm distressed not only by those making shameful and preposterous accusations, but also those who could not hold their fire a few days until the bodies were cold to defend what didn't need defending, as no one was fooled or persuaded. The only right response was, "Hush, we can debate later, a moment of silence for the dead."

I begin to understand the real reason we can't have prayer at public events. We'd have to shut up for a moment.