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Biden the Boastful

From the Scrapbook.

Apr 2, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 28 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
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Indeed, you could argue that gracefully accepting Nature’s verdict makes a certain political sense. Does the 88-year-old Bob Dole really think that his pitch-black locks give him a youthful flair? Does the 77-year-old Carl Levin believe that, if he parts his hair somewhere around his left earlobe, his comb-over will seem less ludicrous? Say what you will about Newt Gingrich, his unashamedly white mane could furnish a room of shag carpeting for a needy family. And anyone who questions Mitt Romney’s authenticity has not observed the tell-tale spread of gray from his temples upward. 

Ronald Reagan, upon whom fortune smiled in many respects, seems to have been one of those rare creatures who didn’t go totally gray with age. But as The Scrapbook is often reminded, there was only one Ronald Reagan. And for every eternally salt-and-peppered Gipper there are Steve Martin and Justice Holmes and Anderson Cooper and Henry Hyde and William Faulkner and Cary Grant to remind us that undyed hair is not inconsistent with retaining one’s mojo.

Especially when you’re serving your country in federal prison. 

Civility for Thee . . .

Comedian Bill Maher last week proposed in the New York Times: “Let’s have an amnesty—from the left and the right—on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize.”

This proposal was more than a bit self-serving. Ever since Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” for demanding that people pay for her contraception and abortifacients, we’ve been engaged in a tortured national dialogue over slurs. Maher was dragged into this debate because in defending Limbaugh, more than a few people pointed out that the HBO host has called Sarah Palin the C-word and said a torrent of vicious things that go far beyond anything Limbaugh said about Fluke. And he ostentatiously donated $1 million to a super-PAC dedicated to reelecting the president.

Moreover, after a very public Democratic campaign banging on Limbaugh’s statement, it was pointed out that DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz had appeared on Maher’s frequently distasteful show. It seems that Democrats have no problem with profaning women, so long as they dislike the women being insulted.

To Maher’s credit, he’s defended Limbaugh’s right to mouth off and denounced the campaign to pressure his advertisers. However, Maher’s proposal seems unworkable without addressing the root cause. Does he really expect that public figures should be able to say nasty and personal things about other public figures without cavil?

Naturally, a guy whose brand of humor depends on saying things that are more insulting than witty would conclude that we’re apologizing too much. But the human condition being what it is, our real problem is that we’re forever seeking ways to avoid owning up to the things we’ve done wrong and correcting our behavior. At the very least, personal insults, even with the fig leaf of being said in jest, erode the public discourse. 

But don’t take our word for it. By the standards of America’s prolific founding fathers, George Washington was not an especially literary man. He’s known for one slender volume, Rules of Civility—so we take it to mean that he viewed respectful discourse to be a civic virtue of importance. We refer Maher especially to the section that starts, “Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.” 

Here’s our modest proposal for Maher: Don’t shy away from your opinions—but try and keep the personal assaults to a minimum. We suspect that if he showed a modicum of self-control, much of America would suddenly discover that although not always agreeable, he’s at least a lot funnier when his rage-filled, childish id is kept on a leash.

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