For those who follow the etiquette angle of the news -- that would be Miss Manners herself, alone out of the entire population -- the election has been running along pretty much as expected. More's the pity.
As an opening salvo, all candidates everywhere always attack Washington. This unprovoked aggression against Miss Manners's dear little home town distresses her. She has been told that it is because everyone in Washington behaves so badly.
Surely not everyone, she pleads. Surely not the native population, of which she humbly offers herself as a paragon of politeness. Others, perhaps -- but then where did they come from?
We see the answer as the election season progresses. The traditional next step is that all candidates declare they will not run negative campaigns. They are above that sort of thing, and besides, they have been told the voters dislike it.
To highlight their civility, they point out how much restraint it takes to refrain from attacking their opponents, since these individuals happen to be liars, cheats and masters of incompetence.
At that point, the floodgates open and out pour all sorts of invectives, insults and insinuations. And Miss Manners waits for the political consequences of violating the public's declared standard to eliminate, if not discourage, rude candidates.
But no. Having declared on the side of civility, the public begins ridiculing anyone who continues to practice it. A candidate who observes the rules of courteous debate is said to be acting as if attending a -- chortle, chortle -- tea party. (Tea is thought to be the opiate of the terminally polite, rendering them unfit for any real-life activity.)
Worse, polite behavior is diagnosed as a sign of moral indifference. A person who really felt passionately about his or her ideals would not be capable of maintaining an amiable, respectful manner toward someone who did not share them, it is thought. Thus rudeness becomes the hallmark of virtue.
And many of the rude get elected. By this time, Miss Manners notes, there are few others among whom to choose.
In the flush of victory, winners often promise a new era of civility. They are going to elevate the tone in Washington. But the success of their rude campaign techniques serves as a reminder that no matter what the voters say, they appreciate being represented by someone who packs a forceful snarl and has a blunt way of challenging opposition.
Yet when things get nasty, those fickle voters start complaining again about the rudeness in Washington. So in keeping with prevailing notions of spreading love, an attempt is made to instill civility according to the peculiar belief that people who know one another well are bound to be kind to one another. Off the offenders go on a pleasant boondoggle, getting to be friends.
If this actually worked, and political opponents suppressed their differences in the interest of pleasing one another, the result would be cronyism, which exists at the expense of their constituencies. That is not an acceptable solution.
The only way a government works is when its officials learn to remain civil while airing their disagreements so that they can reach workable compromises. Campaigns serve as demonstrations of how well the candidates can do that.
So if the folks in Washington are rude, whose fault is that?
Dear Miss Manners:
I think that in the world of mega-philanthropy, the donation of large amounts of money by the rich and famous to endow edifices dedicated to themselves is offensive. These are usually opera houses, museums or similar institutions frequented only by others in their own social stratum.
But it is so hard to persuade the poor to endow public institutions.
So although it is true that the fastidious should adhere to the policy of memorializing the dead, rather than their lively selves, we take what we can get.
Fortunately, it is not hard to get the poor to take advantage of this largess. Miss Manners assures you that if you were to visit museums and opera houses, you would find them filled with people who are distinguished by their interests, not their incomes.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c) 2004, Judith Martin