Given the debased standards of the last 16 years or so, the surprising thing about this election season has been its gentility.  The top candidates in both parties have been pretty careful about taking the high road.  That’s a sign that the electorate as a whole is tired of partisan nastiness.  

On the other hand, people have been taking offense as if Karl Rove was still in control.  Some advisor will say something impolitic, there’s a furor, and they’ll get canned by the candidate (who gets to show that they’re above the fray).  Timothy Noah has a good article in Slate on Obama’s very smart response to the latest incident. 

 This reminds me of the rather artificial righteousness that’s often on display after a forum goes through a split or a nasty flamewar.  Everyone’s on their best behavior– but it’s not a level of behavior that can be sustained, and really, getting offended can be just as aggressive and disruptive as trolling or flaming. 

Sometimes we need polite fictions.  Other times, they’re BS.  The brouhaha over Geraldine Ferraro or Jeremiah Wright strikes me as mostly BS.  Racism and sexism still exist, sometimes in pretty virulent form.  Obama is quite right to underline that things have improved and can continue to do so.  But pundits aren’t doing anyone any good when they take offense at some people’s continuing anger or bitterness over these issues. 

 Often a person’s views are not right or wrong, good or bad, but just part of their personal context.  As the first major-party female VP candidate, Ferraro very naturally sees things in terms of gender.  As a black pastor, Wright will see things in terms of race.  To the next generation, maybe these preoccupations look outdated… in fact, let’s hope they are.  But there’s still something to what they’re saying, even if their rhetoric is overdone.  Racism and sexism aren’t removed by punishing any rhetorical discussion of the topic; that just drives the anger underground and paves over politics with a layer of polite BS.

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