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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2003 / 5 Adar I, 5763

Robert L. Haught

Robert L. Haught
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Consumer Reports

Politeness, politics don't mix | WASHINGTON It probably comes as no surprise to anyone that Washington, D.C., does not hold the title of America's best-mannered city. In fact, the nation's capital didn't even make a list that included, of all places, New York City.

Manners maven Marjabelle Young Stewart awarded the top honor for politeness to Charleston, S.C. It's the ninth time that charming southern city has won, although last year it had to share the distinction with New York. (Upon learning his city had been named one of the country's two most polite places, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani reacted in typical New Yorker fashion: "What were they drinking?")

One does have to wonder about the validity of an unscientific survey based on phone calls, e-mails, faxes and letters sent to a woman who preaches about etiquette from the hog capital of the world, Iowa. But she's been making headlines with her annual list since she started compiling it 26 years ago.

Is she dissing Washington because of the time she spent in the area in the 1950s? That was after she married a scientist who dragged her from the Iowa cornfields to the environs of Embassy Row, where she observed the fine manners of diplomats' children and opened a "school for young ladies."

Her students included the daughters of Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson, and we can just imagine the kind of gentility they inherited from their fathers.

Perhaps a congressional investigation will be necessary to determine why the capital city has missed getting the seal of approval.

Consider the other cities on Stewart's top 10 list. After tying for first in 2002, New York slipped to No. 3 this year, trailing San Diego. Philadelphia, which boasts of being the City of Brotherly Love, was in fourth place, followed by San Francisco, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Minneapolis and Seattle.

Maybe Washington gets a bad rap because of the impression created by the ugly things that politicians are always saying about one another. Citizens who think that rudeness is a way of life on Capitol Hill should sit in the galleries while the House or Senate is in session. They should listen to the way the members address each other as "the honorable so-and-so" or politely ask, "will the gentle-lady yield?" (That's a courteous phrase for, "shut up and let me talk for awhile!")

Some of the news stories in the Washington Post don't help polish the city's image very much, like the recent article whining about President Bush not being a social gadabout in his temporary home city. The story did take note of the fact that Bush and his wife, Laura, had a night out recently, dining at the Cactus Cantina, where she had fajitas and he enjoyed a cheese enchilada.

The president is not alone in playing an outsider's role. House speaker Dennis Hastert goes back and forth to Illinois. About four out of five House members maintain homes in their districts (where houses are more affordable) and commute to work. The House is in session only about two full days a week.

If Bush prefers his Texas ranch to Georgetown salons, nobody can say he didn't warn them. When he ran for president, he emphasized that his area code was 512 and his zip code was 78701.

"That's Austin," he said.

Now isn't that a polite way of putting his preference? Not quite as pointed as President John F. Kennedy's much-quoted definition of Washington as a place of "southern efficiency and northern charm."

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JWR contributor Robert L. Haught is a columnist for The Oklahoman. Comment by clicking here.


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07/19/02: Party animals are inviting targets
07/12/02: Beat the Bush
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04/30/02: Donkeys and elephants: Is it really art or is it politics?
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01/09/02: While Congress is away, look at the laws it has made
12/28/01: 2001: A year of achievements, but some are disputable
12/21/01: Gifts for many public officials came a bit early this year
11/29/01: Animal rights group would like to tan Osama's hide
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10/12/01: There's something fishy going on in the U.S. Congress
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08/31/01: Two Garys, going the same road
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© 2002, Robert L. Haught