Saturday, February 11, 2006

When crass is called for

Rosa Brooks

February 10, 2006

IT'S TIME TO TAKE a stand against civility, decency and appropriateness.

No, I'm not suggesting that you should stop saying "please" and "thank you." But lately, the claims about civility that come from the political right seem to mask an unstated and troubling assertion: Never, ever, challenge anyone in power.

Take this week's kerfuffle over the funeral of Coretta Scott King. After her death, politicians from both parties tripped over one another in their haste to offer tasteful, inoffensive eulogies. Speaking at King's funeral, President Bush had the formula down pat. With just the right tone of fervent gravity, he informed mourners that "Coretta Scott King showed that a person of conviction and strength could also be a beautiful soul."

But apparently not everyone at the funeral got the right script. Some of the eulogists — including the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and former President Carter — had to go and "politicize" the funeral.

Lowery — a prominent civil rights leader himself — boorishly insisted that King actually had opinions on matters other than desegregation (now relegated, by happy bipartisan consensus, to the quaint historical past). Lowery informed the audience that she "deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we knew, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here…. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor."

Then Carter crassly reminded the assembled mourners that — back in the day — Coretta and Martin Luther King Jr. were "not appreciated even at the highest level of the government." In fact, Carter observed pointedly, "the civil liberties of both husband and wife [were] violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping, other surveillance and … harassment from the FBI."

Within hours, conservative pundits began to condemn Carter and Lowery for tactlessness, poor manners and a range of other sins. On MSNBC's "Hardball," the National Review's Kate O'Beirne denounced Lowery's and Carter's remarks as "completely inappropriate … cheap shot[s] … bad form." On Fox, Sean Hannity inveighed against Lowery and Carter for "attacking" Bush while he was at a funeral "to honor this woman … can you not see the lack of decency?"

Even liberals seemed to be having trouble holding their ground. On CNN, anchor Miles O'Brien suggested that Lowery's and Carter's remarks were "coarse," and analyst Jeff Greenfield glumly agreed: "Maybe there's a more appropriate way to talk at a funeral."

It's this sort of idiocy that makes me feel like saying something genuinely coarse.

Read On

Amen, Sister!

What's more it makes us want to do something pretty damned crass, but because of Coretta's and Martin's example, we probably won't, at least not yet


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