My dear readers, I am striving to be extra polite today because ill-mannered jerks appear to have taken over America and someone has to set a higher standard. In every field — particularly politics — rudeness rules.
I know what you are thinking: If I am the one to set the standards for politeness, we are all doomed. That is just the sort of discourteous thought that I seek to banish.
But how to restore good manners to America? The easiest way might be to bring back smoking as a fashionable pastime. Yes, it is a disgusting habit that can lead to horrible death, but on the upside, it has a sedative effect on users.
Native Americans smoked peace pipes for this reason, although it is also possible that they wanted to have a quiet smoke just to get out of hunting and gathering, as office workers do today next to the “no smoking” signs outside their buildings.
And who can forget when the Marlboro Man was the king of social behavior? Everybody was so friendly and considerate (in between the race riots and the war protests). There was nothing like the crankiness you see today. In my view, people are fuming precisely because they are deprived of the tobacco needed to blow more civil smoke.
Back in the day, courtesy drifted in the air like rings. “Would you care for a cigarette?” “Why, I don’t mind if I do, thank you.” “You are most welcome.” Then, according to the etiquette of the time, smoke would be blown into the other person’s face as a sign of good cheer.
When the smoker had the traditional three-martini lunch, he or she would become a stumbling and coughing replica of Emily Post. But I suppose the golden — read, nicotine-stained — age of politeness can never be revived.
The political will to promote smoking as a social anesthetic is just not there, and the three-martini lunch has heard strike three called. What a shame! The result is that jerks are living longer and making our lives a misery. They go to tea parties with no intention of holding up tea cups with one pinky extended but instead employ another finger to make a coarse point. This is not good.
In our angry and disagreeable time, no one can agree on much. You have the liberals (Definition: Folks who believe you can have any sort of sex but not a cigarette afterward). And you have the conservatives (Definition: Folks who believe you cannot have any sort of sex unless you are a married heterosexual, and then only on Saturday night, but approve of cigarettes if the taxes do not go to subsidize socialism).
The only thing these two groups can agree on is that those on the other side are the ruder ones. Yes, you are. No, we are not. You are. Your mom wears Army boots. Her feet are patriotic and support our troops. You lie! (Definition: You have a contrary view to my own). Nyah, nyah, and so on and so forth.
It is true that the left-wing fringe was rude to the last president, but two wrongs don’t make an excuse for the right. Moreover, the left-wing fringe was exactly that — a fringe — whereas Oscar the Conservative Grouch could be anyone’s neighbor.
That’s is why I am writing a book of political etiquette for those who support family values but might want to be acquainted with a fundamental one — good manners. I call it: “Liar, Liar, Politics on Fire: Strain the Tea, Not Our Country.”
It will be in a question-and-answer format. I will field questions from imaginary friends, which is OK because my target audience has imaginary enemies. Here is a sample:
Dear Mr. Politeness Czar: Even though you hold an unconstitutional position, can you tell me if it is OK to hold up a sign at a tea party that says “Obama Is a Marxist Muslim”? My wife says that’s an oxymoron but I told her she was an oxymoron.
Dear Sir: In our age, this is a perfectly acceptable sign. It shows people exactly where you are coming from, although admittedly not the name of the institution. But our Founding Fathers fought for the right to free speech and for the right to be stupid. But do not call your wife vile names such as oxymoron or liberal. Remember that liberals got the Constitution changed so that women can vote and she may take her secret revenge later and cut off your ticket.
This is just a sample, dear readers, and I hope it gave you a laugh and something to think about it. If not, thank you for your interest and, with the greatest respect, to heck with you.
(Reg Henry is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. E-mail rhenry(at)post-gazette.com.)