07/12/2006 10:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A Comedy of Manners

The media and political elite of this country seem to think the real problem with politics today is that liberal activists are so loudly criticizing the outrageous extremes of the right - you know, as opposed to that friendly, peaceful era not so long ago when the Republicans orchestrated a full-court press and impeachment over a protein stain on a blue dress, while the media served as blushing handmaidens to the national ordeal.

Ah, good times!

I'm so confused when these ladies and gentlemen equate the reaction of partisans to outrage with the outrage itself. They say their concern crosses party lines, yet I don't remember any of these leaders tsk-tsking about the coarseness of public discourse back when it was so very one-sided.

These denizens of the Beltway Olympus never quite recovered from the fact that 1) the public didn't buy their oh-so-compelling narrative of evil, rewarding Bill Clinton with healthy approval ratings through the entire run and 2) liberals, finally understanding that the media was thoroughly cowed by the constant barrage of right-wing think tank-sponsored manufactured outrage, awoke from their shocked stupor and began to replicate the same (successful) tactics.

The horror! Why, it's as if the concentration camp inmates started attacking the guards at Auschwitz! "What happened to those nice polite Jews we used to know? Remember, the ones who used to play in that string quartet?"

Despite the current constitutional crisis, despite the abandonment of every principle that truly made us the land of the free, the Beltway contingent still believes the problem is merely one of etiquette.

But really, who am I to argue? Maybe they have something here. I'm partial to something I once read in a Regency novel (Jane Austen, I believe). When a societal outcast whose behavior was quite beyond the pale was presumptuous enough to present his hand to you in public, the proper response was to extend to him or her only your pinky.

Get it? You're such a lowlife, you're not even deserving of a handshake! I spit on your vileness - in the most polite possible way! I fling my pinky at the likes of you!

The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this just might work. Think about it: You're at a Georgetown cocktail party, and Alberto Gonzalez is making small talk by the shrimp bowl. "Your name?" he says, extending his hand.

This is the man who's decimated the Bill of Rights, mind you. What to do? Do you rip off your shirt, revealing a Code Pink T-shirt and embarrassing the rest of the guests with your sheer crassness - or do you extend your pinky? (Oh, I think you already know the answer.)

Say you're at a speakers panel somewhere and someone invited Donald Rumsfeld. You're in the receiving line afterward and you're getting a little weirded out, yes? Well, you have a few options here. Think it through: If you get into a loud shouting match over the seemingly pointless deaths of soldiers and civilians in Iraq, or threw a vial of pig's blood on his nice white shirt, what real impact will you have? (Not to mention, it's terribly déclassé.) Rummy will just tune you out and everyone else will pretend they didn't hear you.

Ah, but if you extend your pinky, you've said it all - in the most genteel way possible.

Yes, while we may eventually live in a nation of radically reduced liberties, a broken economy and a state of perpetual war, we will have the satisfaction of knowing when the going got rough, we didn't descend to their level.

We did the right thing. We extended our pinkies, thus earning the thanks of a grateful consultant class.