The Washington Post

‘I was just too polite’ at debate, says Obama

This legislative victory was quite rude, if this is the definition of politeness we’re working with now. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Too polite. That’s what it was.

That is what politeness looks like. I thought that was what an underprepared, underwhelming debate performance looked like, but no. That was etiquette.

It turns out that I have been much politer than I realized for years. I thought I was a terrible volleyball player, but I was just being polite to the other team. I thought I was losing the geography bee, but I was just being civil. When the Empire sat there and watched the Death Star blow up, that was sheer courtesy. Waterloo was just a case of Napoleon realizing belatedly how rude he had been to the English and seeking to set things right.

“After you, Governor,” President Obama was saying. “Here, let me hold open a window of opportunity for you. It seems unfair that I should have run so far ahead in the polls for so long. Your supporters have wrung their hands and torn their hair and fretted for months, and they are running out of things to say. Your campaign has been proclaimed dead eight or nine times. This is the least I can do.”

Michael Phelps is not a good swimmer, he is just very rude.

Politeness is nothing like using the right fork or holding doors or patiently waiting for people with whom you disagree to finish speaking. Well, possibly that last one. Politeness is allowing your opponent to walk away with the debate.

Yes, this is hyperbole. If it were not for hyperbole, the great majority of debate commentary would wither up into nothing and float away in a light breeze. But I am not sure that President Obama’s less polite suggestion, which was apparently to keep reiterating (that’s redundant, I think) that Romney was not being truthful, would have worked either. At a certain point, you have to convince people of your own vision, not just attack the bizarre emanations from the other podium.

No wonder politeness is so unpopular these days. It looks a lot like something else.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences".


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