Evil communications corrupt good manners. – The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians
Politicians, like mere mortals, often misbehave – sometimes in startling ways. Like so many of us they should consult an etiquette expert. Sadly, most elected officials these days feel they’re above such often-vital research. So it’s only possible to imagine a fictitious exchange of letters where a successful politician sought advice from a true authority on excruciatingly correct and proper behavior like Miss Manners, who dispenses both amusing and valuable advice and would not respond as I have (which is why she’s in her line of work and I’m in mine).
Dear Miss Manners: I am a well-known politician who is confronted with a dilemma. During the course of my 16-year marriage to my wonderful second wife who has borne me two wonderful children I carried on an affair with the woman who was my communications director. She (together with my wife) has now been replaced in my affections by a woman I want to marry. The question I have for you is how should I give my wife the news?
One part of me thinks I should tell her privately in our home (which, by the way, is publicly subsidized housing) while the other part of me thinks I should just announce it during a press conference. I am anxious to marry my new best girl friend and would appreciate a prompt reply to this question. I would also like to know if you think that before I remarry I should permit my present wife to continue living in our subsidized housing with the children or should I ask her to immediately leave since the only reason we have subsidized housing is because of my very important political position and she has not contributed to that? – RG
Dear RG: Yours is not a difficult question. Miss Manners thinks that for a spouse to use a press conference to inform the other spouse that a life-long marital commitment is coming to an end would be unbelievably tacky. Miss Manners strongly urges you to convey your intentions to your wife in the privacy of your own home. As to whether your wife should continue to live in publicly subsidized housing once you tell her of your intentions, Miss Manners believes that that question must be answered by a lawyer and not by Miss Manners.
Dear Miss Manners: Some years ago I wrote and you told me it would be unbelievably tacky to let my spouse know that I wanted a divorce by announcing it in a press conference. I ignored your advice and consequently received a great deal of criticism even though during the press conference I told the press that my then wife was a “wonderful person.” I am now being criticized again and would like your opinion as to whether or not the criticism is justified.
Aspiring to an even higher position than I held when last I wrote, one of the things I have to do is make lots of speeches describing my virtues which, putting marital infidelity aside, are many. During one of my recent speeches I forgot to turn off my cell phone. In the middle of my speech it rang and I saw that it was my wife. I said to the audience: “This is my wife calling, I think.” Interrupting my speech, I answered saying: “Hello, dear. I’m talking – I’m talking to the members of the N.R.A. right now. Would you like to say hello?” After hearing her response I said: “I love you, and I’ll give you a call as soon as I’m finished. OK?” A number of people have said that behavior was unbelievably boorish. Was I right to take her call or should I have ignored it and talked to her after I finished my speech? – RG
Dear RG: Having already demonstrated that you are an incredible boor, it amazes me that you ask me to confirm the fact. Miss Manners thinks that the cell phone’s greatest contribution to modern society has been to make acceptable that which twenty years ago would have been perceived as an amazing lack of manners. Miss Manners has seen many occasions where a group of people is talking and one person’s cell phone rings and the person not only answers but does so without leaving the group, thus causing the group’s conversation to come to a complete halt until the called party has concluded the conversation.(Miss Manners would suggest that when one person in a group receives a call and insists on completing the call without leaving the group the group should quietly move away in order to give the called person some privacy thus, she hopes, embarrassing the recipient of the call.)
Miss Manners thinks that your conduct in accepting the call during a speech and then having a “cute” conversation with your wife was demeaning to your audience and confirms the fact that you are an insensitive boor. Should you be elected to high office Miss Manners would be happy to tutor you in the common courtesies.