President Reagan's reward for trying to be nice was a good firm kick in the keister from the amalgamated businesswomen.
The International Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs had been meeting in the capital, accomplishing about as much as most conventions accomplish, no doubt, when their tour of the White House was canceled--rather precipitously, it is true, since they had already arrived for it.
It was canceled because the president needed to use the East Room for a meeting. Naturally, it was perverse of the president to wish to use the main room of the president's house, and he will probably learn from this to hire a suite at the Hay-Adams Hotel across the street in the future, if he needs a room somewhere.
All the same, when he was told the women's tour had been canceled he had the astounding grace to put himself in the place of the 1,200 women who were disappointed.
He therefore changed his schedule to carve out time to apologize to them in person for their disappointment about the tour, and while he was about it he assured them of his high regard for the role of women in civilization:
"I happen to be one," he went on, "who believes that if it wasn't for women, we men would still be walking around in skin suits carrying clubs."
This was an error. Women had nothing to do with civilizing men, as far as the historical record can show.
Dogs had much to do with civilizing men, and more than anything else the advent of agriculture did.
It was agriculture, with its steady food supply, that led to civilization, and is still the base of it, since labor had to be divided, barns had to be built, cooperation had to become a part of human life.
I do not ignore or underestimate the cardinal importance of brilliant administration by the pharaohs, their ministers and priests, in raising civilization to a high pitch, but the underlying force was agriculture.
One of the most brilliant of Egyptian rulers was, of course, a woman, Hatshepsut, and centuries later another Egyptian queen, Nefertiti, became an ultimate model of female elegance, beauty of face and sweetness. Even if, as is sometimes hinted, she was involved in a good bit of political intrigue and perhaps murder. No matter. She was the sort of woman the world would forgive anything.
Which is not true of the International Federation of Business etc., etc.
One misses, in them, the sweetness and openheartedness expected of all civilized folk.
The president's comment paid tribute (factually incorrect though it was) to the civilizing, ennobling effect of women upon men. But instead of accepting his intention with the grace that inspired him to exaggerate the facts, the women (or some of them, as quoted in newspapers) took this to be a denigration of their importance. They figured this meant that women were good for nothing but pleasing men, having babies and scrubbing floors.
How they got from the president's remark to their bizarre sense of insult is something so incomprehensible to sound reasoning that one can only lose heart over the consistent failure of some women to think at all.
Of course the president bears the responsibility for two errors that a more careful man would never had committed. In his zeal for over-politeness he flattered the women grossly, attributing to them a civilizing influence that few males have ever detected. And, in an even more surprising lapse of judgment, he tried to be nice when a bunch of women were already mad.
He has learned little, evidently, from his long marriage to a woman. The first rule, when a woman is all upset, is to maintain a calm steady deep voice, walk slowly to the door, and slam the hell out of it.
I wonder where the pollsters are. Take a poll. The percentage that faults the president in his effort to be excessively polite is the percentage of hopeless imbeciles in the United States.