With any kind of luck, we might enjoy a respite from the flood of recriminations and manifestations of real and feigned outrage from both sides of the political spectrum over Rush Limbaugh's rather boorish choice of words in describing Ms. Sandra Fluke's quest for her birth control requirements.
That Ms. Fluke is not a candidate to make us forget June Cleaver is not at issue — her personal life is her own. Limbaugh's lewd representation of her failed to establish the truth of the matter stated therein in violation of an analytic rule of evidence defining hearsay.
It was vintage Limbaugh, fueling the fires of his legions of haters and embarrassing those of us who eschew personal attacks and locker room name-calling, particularly by one with a nationwide audience. Admittedly, Rush can be and often is a jerk — often a product of an oversized ego and a seemingly receptive public.
Lest I be pummeled and cudgeled by those occupying my side of the aisle, I am aware that the "Mouth of the Right" is not alone in tasteless attacks on women with whom he is at odds. Nevertheless, the reality that among others, the ultra-tacky syndicated comic Bill Maher and MSNBC's Ed Schultz have uttered much worse and received a media pass is not reassuring — no one escapes the stench of the gutter.
The consequences of television and radio shock jocks spewing vulgarities from a purely political standpoint and, to a lesser extent, the crude and indecent guttersnipes of the entertainment world, could be dire. It is no secret there is a movement to silence or severely restrict talk-radio broadcasts, particularly those of conservative bent — at least 30 liberal groups have petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine which was eliminated in 1987.
Thus far, the courts have ruled wisely in the interests of freedom of speech and expression as guaranteed by the Constitution. Disagreement, dissent and debate are vital to the freedoms earned by the blood and toil of soldiers and statespeople and may not be subjected to the whims of executive order and/or partisan legislative fiat.
How we arrived in these straits of incivility and vulgarity in our discourse and how to curtail these permitted but totally classless and unnecessary incursions of poor taste and absences of common courtesy are relevant. Those of my generation, born in the 1930s and growing up in the '40s and '50s, were rarely subjected to excesses of rude, lewd and destructive behavior.
We were far from perfect but barnyard language stayed in the barnyard. People treated one another (ladies in particular) with courtesy and respect, and freedom of speech and expression did not include public utterings of four-letter words, disrupting funerals and desecrating and burning the flag — all of which is permitted under the First Amendment.
We got here because we, collectively, allowed it to happen. We have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the filth, vulgarity and degeneracy of our entertainment mediums — movies, television, radio and the drug-glorifying, foulmouthed, tasteless and lawless "artists" whose song lyrics and comedy rants should turn a normal person's stomach.
We can pretend that by observing family-hour programming, restricting the likes of Howard Stern to cable TV, paying lip service to the movies, video games and leisure pursuits of children that all is well. But, kids today are not Wally and the Beaver of the '50s — they have far more outlets for mischief and, being kids, they are inquisitive and tend to lose the leash whenever possible.
Consequently, we have third- and fourth-graders cursing and attacking teachers, incorrigible teenagers and a generation of people who eschew responsibility, instead blaming society or the lack of government programs. Left alone, it isn't going to get any better.
How do we plot the course of civil and decent discourse? We have learned that we cannot do it by passing new laws — ordinances against flag burning, the Reverend Phelps' harassment of funerals and pornographic materials have been overturned in the courts as violating the First Amendment.
We do it gradually through a change of attitude. First, we cease subsidizing uncivil and vulgar entertainment mediums. Movies, TV shows, concerts and night club entertainment that offend are dependent on customers — they will adapt or be replaced.
Most importantly, we can turn to treating our fellow man and woman with common courtesy and respect. We can disagree without being disagreeable — and if we cannot agree or compromise, we can at least be tolerant.
Admittedly, it is a steep hill to climb — however, affecting leadership by setting the example is infectious — it can lessen the grade.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.