And the Wisdom of Mothers, Manners and Minding Your Tongue
There is so much to love about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech yesterday. Grace in thanking her colleagues at the front end, and her verbal assailant at the end. A gritty accounting of personal abuse eloquently lifted to encircle disparagement of all women. Respect for the office she holds, her constituents, fellow members of Congress — and her own worth and dignity. Lines that reverberate and will most certainly be emblazoned on signs, memes and t-shirts soon: “Having a wife does not make a man decent.” “I am someone’s daughter too.”
And there is so much to abhor about Rep. Ted Yoho’s ugly slurs the day before. Misogyny. Vulgarity. Condescension. Crudeness and aggression. All followed by the ‘sorry — not sorry’ apology sham.
And while much can be said about the content of their remarks, I think there are lessons to be learned in the delivery — lessons that extend well beyond this specific exchange.
From all accounts, the good gentleman from Florida wagged his finger in Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s face as they crossed paths on the steps of the Capitol. He called her disgusting, crazy and dangerous.
He saved the really good stuff, his finest bon mots, until he was no longer facing the New York congresswoman. He waited until her back was turned before unleashing the classic ‘I’m rubber, you’re glue’ playground riposte, responding to AOC’s calling out of his rude behavior: “I’m rude? You’re calling me rude?”
Wait for it though. Take a seat, a swig, and a bag of popcorn. Because Yoho’s most quotable moment came when his victim was well out of earshot: ‘Fucking bitch.’
The words were reprehensible. Repugnant. Lazy and unimaginative. Nothing we — nor the firebrand representing the Bronx — haven’t heard before. And still … their crassness and cruelty appall and disappoint. It was street-sewer prose that didn’t belong on the marble climb to the U.S. Capitol, a Mount Olympus of oratory past.
It was boring, boorish and unbefitting. And, sadly, what we’ve come to expect — in both content and context.
Sure, the substance was revolting, but so was the stagecraft. Rep. Yoho didn’t have the decency to speak his piece in front of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez. He turned his back, rounded a corner and only then, out of his target’s earshot did he launch his gutter-ball grenade. He delivered a drive-by diss, insulting AOC in a meant-to-be-heard-by-others mutter. Rather than addressing his issues in debate, an exchange of emails, or an opinion piece that might build a case on reason, he went low and loathsome.
I suppose it might be an upshot of Internet anonymity. Anyone can say anything behind the safety of a screen. And we, the viewing, listening, conversing public, we let them get away with it. We read, believe and retweet sharp-edged sound bites. We enjoy the cowardly wags and wits who make inflammatory posts — and reward them with likes and shares and thumbs-up emojis.
The political realm seems to be aligning pretty closely with ethersphere darkness. Or maybe the cigar-filled backrooms of political deal-making inspired the latter. Whatever the case, the reluctance to attach your name to anything … to be accountable for words or deeds … to speak plainly and publicly — appear to be epidemic. Leaks and anonymous sources, tip-offs and faceless, tasteless trash talk abound.
Rep. Yoho rhetorically paraded his wife and daughters in a sorry excuse at apology. It was excruciating to behold and made me wonder about the female family member he didn’t mention, his mother. How did he miss the lessons we all learned from ours?
· “Look someone in the eye when you’re talking to them.”
· “Disagree humbly.”
· “Admit mistakes.”
· “Words can hurt.”
· And “Your language reflects on you.”
How did he — and we — devolve honest, healthy debate to name-calling and spineless sputtering? When did we sacrifice the art of the bully pulpit in favor of plain old bullying? And if we’re this snake-in-the-grass low, can we even see our way clear to elevating the conversation and basic civility?
Maybe it’s just me, and a quarantined overdose of Hamilton, but I yearn for that theatrical portrayal of a time in history when men (and those intrepid Schuyler sisters!) spoke with authority and passion, stood their ground and recognized the amazing power of words. “I’ll write my way out,” Hamilton sings in Hurricane, “overwhelm them with honesty.”
Honest, well-chosen words. Straight talk. Paying attention and showing respect. From where we stand today, those seem to tally up to a very a tall order — ranking right up there in Hamilton’s overwhelm realm.
But I have hope. Partly because I put great stock in the power of words and spirited debate. And partly because of the example set yesterday, when AOC stared down her fellow members of Congress, refusing to back down or sink to the darkest depths.
She reminded us that she is someone’s daughter. Rep. Yoho would do well to remember that he is someone’s son, and recall the wisdom of mothers, manners and minding one’s tongue.