- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2009

So much for civility in the capital of the Free World.

Washington is still the same old ill-mannered place, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday, just 16 days into the new administration.

President Barack Obama came to office making the time-honored promise to raise the level of political discourse in Washington, but thus far, most Americans don’t see that his promise is panning out,” said Gallup analyst Lydia Saad.

Civility is subject to close examination these days. For example, Mr. Obama’s admission during TV interviews Tuesday that he “screwed up” on recent Cabinet changes brought both criticism and accolades.

Some analysts were offended by the indecorous quality of the comment; others praised it as straightforward and shrewd. But it was surely a studied remark: Mr. Obama used the same phrase on both CNN and CBS.

The Gallup numbers are telling, meanwhile. The survey found that 23 percent of the respondents said that the “overall tone and level of civility” in Washington has gotten worse; 21 percent said it’s improved. About half say it has stayed the same.

That’s one thing on which Republicans and Democrats agree. About half the respondents in both demographics said that Washington manners had not changed, though 28 percent of Democrats said the tone had improved, compared with 10 percent of the Republicans.

The Republicans caught most of the blame, with 41 percent of the respondents overall citing Republicans as harbingers of bad behavior. Thirty percent cited the Democrats and about a quarter blamed both parties.

Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher cites the press, however.

“I interview people on the streets, and they’re just fine. I hang out in the Senate building, and the senators and staffers are nice. But it’s people like Shepard Smith on Fox News who get rude. They don’t like me being here. The mainstream media just doesn’t want to accept me and be decent about it,” said Mr. Wurzelbacher, who is filing video dispatches around town on behalf of Pajamas Media.

“My advice to Washington is that the golden rule still applies. Do unto others. Common-sense courtesy goes a long way,” he said.

“Civility helps the political process,” agreed P.M. Forni, author of “The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude” and co-founder of the Civility Project at Johns Hopkins University, which seeks to plumb the significance of manners in contemporary society.

“Political figures who behave with good manners, good taste and in a considerate way also do much to help young people who may be disillusioned with politics,” Mr. Forni said.

Still, Washington is a combative town, he said. That’s a given.

“A democratic society is based on the defense of one’s ideas. Conflict is necessary for the democratic process,” Mr. Forni said. “We can’t do away with political conflict. But we can do away with a certain ‘take no prisoners’ way of interpreting that conflict.”