November 26th, 2016

Decorum and respect: who decides?

Commenter “groundhog” asked this question in the “Hamilton” thread:

The same free speech can be trash to one person and treasure to another. The same speech you or I treasure may be considered worthless to others. And although decorum and respect are important, who gets decide when it is important enough to ignore decorum and respect?

Only the speaker, imo. Do you think otherwise?

My answer is that yes, I think otherwise.

The speaker gets to decide something, of course. The speaker gets to decide what he/she wants to say, and when and where.

And then each person who hears or reads those remarks gets to decide what to say and do in response, including his/her opinion on whether the first person was rude or obnoxious or should have kept his/her mouth shut.

There is also usually a very general public consensus within a society, as well as within different segments of that society, on what is okay and what is not. This is not completely uniform, nor is it uniform between subgroups. And it changes over time, as anyone who’s been alive as long as I have can clearly see.

Sometimes there are formal rules for each venue, as there used to be in the school system when I was a student (I assume there still are, but who knows these days?). There are rules in the workplace, as commenter “Kyndyll G pointed out here. There are also rules within each family, as well as general trends, and the trend for many decades has been for more and more permissiveness. There are basic rules for decorum in church, or at a function like a wedding. There are still rather strict rules for behavior in a courtroom; outbursts are not well-tolerated, and there is something called contempt of court. Contempt of court isn’t limited to disobeying a court order (although it can include that), but can also consist of “being rude or disrespectful to legal authorities in the courtroom,” and people may be sanctioned for such behavior by the court.

Earlier in that same Hamilton thread, commenter “groundhog” had also brought up the example of Joe Wilson, the Republican House member who yelled out “You lie!” during a speech Obama made to Congress in September of 2009. You may recall that Joe Wilson faced quite a bit of judgment after his outburst. Who got to decide whether what he did was a breach of decorum? Well, the press, the public, Obama, Wilson himself, and members of the House of which he was a member.

Here’s how it went down:

Then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel immediately approached senior Republican lawmakers and asked them to identify the heckler and urge him to apologize immediately. Members of Congress from both parties condemned the outburst. “Totally disrespectful”, said Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) of Wilson’s utterance. “No place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately.” Wilson said later in a statement:

This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the President’s remarks regarding the coverage of undocumented immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the President’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the President for this lack of civility.

Obama later accepted Wilson’s apology. “I’m a big believer that we all make mistakes”, he said. “He apologized quickly and without equivocation and I’m appreciative of that.”

House Democrats called on Wilson to issue a formal apology on the House floor. Wilson refused, saying in a televised interview that, “I believe one apology is sufficient.” Congressional Republicans agreed, and opposed further action. On September 15, the House approved a “resolution of disapproval” against Wilson, on 240–179 vote.

The people from Wilson’s district in South Carolina also got to make a decision. They decided to re-elect Wilson, and he’s still a member of the House.

19 Responses to “Decorum and respect: who decides?”

  1. amr Says:

    And, while I don’t believe he was correct in his outburst, he has been proven correct by later actions by states and the feds.

  2. Tom Murin Says:

    Don’t forget that Obama disrespected the Supreme Court in a SOTU address. I don’t think he ever apologized for that.

  3. T Says:

    IMO the common thread in all of this is that we recognize a speaker’s right to speak, but we restrict the listener’s right to judge that same speech. I suspect it is an extension of the leftist meme that judgment equals discrimination and that discrimination per se is evil/bad therefore negatively judging anyone’s behavior or speech is essentially prejudicial.

    All of this, of course, coupled with the points Neo makes above about the traditional vs. changing expectations of public discourse, public dress, etc.

  4. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    The difference between the lecture of Mike Pence at the play Hamilton and Joe Wilson’s response, “You lie!” to Barack Obama is objective truth. Obama was knowingly telling an untruth to the entire nation and doing it in the most prestigious political venue possible.

    Whereas, the Hamilton cast was offering highly debatable subjective opinion as ‘truth’.

    McCain went too far when he went beyond declaring Wilson’s outburst inappropriate on that occasion to opining that it is never appropriate to publicly declare the President to be a liar.

    In lying, Obama indicated contemptuous disrespect for the nation and demonstrated unworthiness for the office he holds and in doing so he earned Wilson’s response.

    Then the GOP apologized for Wilson, in telling the truth… disrespecting the Presidential office, letting Obama get away with it. Rather than stating, “Rep. Wilson’s comment was highly inappropriate and entirely accurate”.

  5. T Says:

    “Then the GOP apologized for Wilson, in telling the truth… disrespecting the Presidential office, letting Obama get away with it.” [Geoffrey Britain @ 4:`5 pm]

    And such a GOP attitude and response is one of the elements that led directly to Donald Trump’s election.

  6. Big Maq Says:

    An old maxim has been lost, as much on the right as on the left, and that is:

    “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”

    What seems to matter nowadays is performance and attention.

    If we think the left have taken it too far under obama, let’s wait and see just what those who support trump find acceptable in reverse.

  7. AesopFan Says:

    T Says:
    November 26th, 2016 at 5:46 pm
    “Then the GOP apologized for Wilson, in telling the truth… disrespecting the Presidential office, letting Obama get away with it.” [Geoffrey Britain @ 4:`5 pm]

    And such a GOP attitude and response is one of the elements that led directly to Donald Trump’s election.
    **
    I was with Wilson until he apologized.

    Hamilton cast declares, “Not my audience.”
    https://goo.gl/images/Tv5mvK

  8. parker Says:

    LBJ, WJC, and BHO ended any sense of respect or decorum for the office. The left proved that to be true by the frenzy of BDS. They have no respect except their respect for whatever it takes to further their agenda of death. They worship death and thus their affinity with Islam. Death cults, period.

  9. Tuvea Says:

    In the middle here. It depends.

    Inappropriate to call out at the SoTU. Just as it would be inappropriate to call out at most funeral or memorial services.

    Not inappropriate to call a politician a liar at most other venues

  10. Hangtown Bob Says:

    Well……., “You lie!” may have been a breach of decorum, but it was also (and in my opinion more importantly) the TRUTH.

    I consider the President of the United States knowingly lying to the America people a breach of decorum orders of magnitude more serious than the simple “you lie”.

  11. Sorta Blogless Sunday Pinup » Pirate's Cove Says:

    […] Neo-neocon wonders who decides decorum and respect […]

  12. Mike K Says:

    The left used to be more approving of “Speaking Truth to Power.”

  13. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    The Left hates objective truth. They spring from the same totalitarian tree as does Islam. It’s all about “better to rule in hell, than serve in heaven”…

  14. groundhog Says:

    As long as you have the freedom of plugging your ears and not applying the gag, it’s okay by me.

    It’s definitely not true that decorum and respect are always more important than the message.

    To let the listener decide is to apply the gag.

    Regarding the mention of the courtroom, there is little to suggest that it is a place ideal for free speech, since speech is specifically controlled. It has to do with law or fairness, but free speech, not so much.

    Thanks for your attention

  15. AesopFan Says:

    Mike K Says:
    November 27th, 2016 at 12:39 pm
    The left used to be more approving of “Speaking Truth to Power.”

    * * *
    IMHO, the Left has lost all right to play the “decency and respect” card — witness their deranged behavior (never called out by any of THEIR politicos) when confronting Secretary Condoleeza Rice:

    https://goo.gl/images/zYgWVI

  16. Gail Finke Says:

    The speaker “gets” to decide whether what he says is decorous and/or appropriate — but so does everyone else. While I may think what I say is fine, others may disagree, and their opinions generally win out. We all know people who think what they say is fine — they may hold that opinion until their dying breathe, but they may be quite wrong, and in the end no amount of insisting that you are decorous will change anyone else’s opinion! It reminds me of the ridiculous “only the artist can say whether or not his work is art” argument. If that’s the case, how do you know he’s an artist? Because he makes art. But as only he can say whether or not what he does is work, then all it takes to be an artist is to say you are one. While many people actually contend this, it’s not remotely convincing in real life.

  17. Assistant Village Idiot Says:

    It’s a balancing act, and opinions will differ at the margins. To correct someone publicly, even if accurately, for something minor does offend against decorum and dignity. OTOH, there are statements that should be called out even if they offend against usual propriety. We would none of us fault a person who had publicly criticised a Hitler, or a Stalin, or a Castro even in the most august of situations, such as delivering a eulogy. It hardly seems undignified to intone “I say, that’s a bit much, Adolf” whatever the occasion.

    Courts and church sermons have rules and I don’t recommend treating those lightly. Yet we can imagine scripts where someone might speak up, even knowing they might pay a cost. As for speaking to the Congress, they can make their own rules, even informally, and I won’t second-guess that.

    The cast of a play publicly challenging an elected figure is defensible in extreme circumstances, I think. However, the extremity was only in their imaginations, founded on their own narcissism.

    @ Mike K – “Speaking Truth To Power” now means Telling your friends what they want to hear.

  18. Frog Says:

    “speaking truth to power” was from its beginning total BS, implying the speaker is from the oppressed class, not the powerful class. It is the essence of domestic Marxist Leftism.
    It is also vulgar and chaos-favoring.
    Sounds good and righteous, though; just like Alinsky would have it.

  19. Ymarsakar Says:

    Because Americans saw how even their own elected politicians bent the knee to the Left’s political correct thought police, the advent of Trum, what they call their God Emperor so to speak, was a refreshing breath of hope and change back in the fallen iron sails of America’s heart.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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