Congress Needs to Relearn the Basic Lesson of Manners    

When new Montana Sen. John Walsh was sworn in, no Republicans showed up; how rude.

Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont. talks Vice President Joe Biden on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2104, after Biden participated in Walsh's ceremonial Senate swearing in ceremony. Walsh's daughter-in-law April Walsh holds his daughter Kennedy left.

Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., at his swearing in ceremony.

By + More

When I was a kid, there were rules for Valentine’s Day. Not the commercially-driven, manufactured guilt/love-related rules of now, when men are somehow expected to compose verse, send flowers and buy expensive jewelry for women, who in turn are expected to believe they are not loved unless the men in their lives cave into the Red Heart Industrial Complex. The rules back in the day were so much simpler, when it came to expressing feelings of warmth and kindness, if not love. And that was that we were not allowed to exclude other children in the delivering of valentines at school.

There was a box with a slit in the side, and we all deposited our flat, bulk-sold valentines for our classmates. It was done to make it seem secret and special, though there was no real mystery to it. Everyone got a valentine from every single other child in the class. It would have been unthinkable and unacceptable to leave anyone out. It wasn’t a school rule, but it didn’t have to be. No one’s parents would have permitted such cruelty.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Somehow, that ethic has failed to survive in the current Congress, where discourse has become so coarse, and basic manners so lacking, that lawmakers can’t even extend a basic, human welcome to a new colleague. Last week, when Democrat John Walsh was sworn in as the new senator from Montana, not a single GOP senator was on the floor to witness it, let alone walk over and offer a handshake of welcome. Perhaps they were annoyed that Walsh gets a bit of a head start in this November’s Senate race, especially since Montana offers a good pickup chance for Republicans eager to take back control of the Senate. (Walsh was appointed by a Democratic governor to fill the seat being vacated early by Max Baucus, who was just confirmed as U.S. ambassador to China). But how petty do modern politics and its purveyors have to be to actually refuse to show up for the swearing-in of a new member?

It doesn’t cost anything to be courteous. When former President George W. Bush delivered his State of the Union speech in 2007, he started out saying how pleased he was to be the first president in U.S. history to start the yearly speech with these words: “Madam speaker.” It was a very gracious gesture towards former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and brought a bipartisan round of applause. It didn’t weaken Bush. It didn’t put him in a position of having to give in to the House Democratic agenda. It was just good manners.

And good manners, our parents taught us in elementary school, are not only their own reward, but also a way to build even small alliances with would-be foes later on. What a shame the middle-aged members of the Senate have forgotten that lesson.