Manners, as Jonah Goldberg said at the Conservative Political Action Committee marriage panel on Thursday, are not about “which fork you use at dinner.” They are about making others feel comfortable, and in a deeper sense, doing what is right so as show respect, gratitude and civility.
Mitt Romney came to CPAC, not to run for something, but because he is an old-fashioned guy who thought it appropriate to show gratitude and maybe say farewell to conservatives who despite reservations gave him the GOP presidential nomination. His speech was about the greatness of America and the need for America to remain great in the world, leading as the only free and democratic power. But it also was about closure for him, a proper goodbye and thank you, because that is what he does. (“I am sorry that I will not be your president,” he said, before promising to still work for the party.) He did not lose the presidency for lack of decency. It is not every pol who will say to former antagonists “learn from my mistakes, and from our mistakes, so that we can win the victories those people and this nation depend upon.”
The crowd responded, I think, with genuine warmth and a little sadness. Whatever differences they’ve had, no conservative in that room doubts Romney would have been a better president than Obama. (And the right-wing bloggers who will jump to contest that point tell you everything you need to know about their view of the country and ideological purity.)
Another example: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) got into it at a hearing on gun legislation:
There was nothing wrong with his point, but his tone in posing questions to her in professorial fashion rather than simply stating his view was, to be blunt, obnoxious. He didn’t get it, pursuing his Socratic method with Feinstein. Feinstein got indignant, but to her credit, on the second round made her view on the Heller decision clear: that the bill would pass muster under the Constitution. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) responded with his own discourse, citing Heller.
The tumult in the media was overblown. No one caned one another (as has been done on the Senate floor) and no one stormed out or even interrupted someone else. No one cursed. But could Cruz get more mileage by turning it down a notch and, yes, showing some respect for a colleague who, while he may disagree with him, has certainly been around the block more than he? Yes. In fact it would be in his interest to show less professorial disdain and more collegiality. He would get his point across while appearing more gracious. (At the Chuck Hagel hearing, Cruz’s skilled questioning of the witness and dogged pursuit of Hagel’s financial matters was marred when he bizarrely suggested Hagel might have gotten money from North Korea when he said, “It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.”)
There are times to get loud and boisterous, and politics is not for the faint of heart. But we saw this week that at least for public officials and candidates they usually look better when they show humility, grace and kindness.
It is ironic, after all, that in his kerfuffle with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over the filibuster (in which Cruz played a large role) Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) won the high ground while McCain resorted to schoolyard taunts (calling his colleagues “wacko-birds”). Cruz was certainly not in McCain’s rudeness league; Cruz, as Romney put it, should learn from others’ mistakes. It will make him a more effective and respected voice.
UPDATE: McCain has apologized. Good for him.