Robert Bork, who the U.S. Senate turned down as a U.S. Supreme Court nominee, died at the age of 85. What has the media and public buzzing is not that. Instead, as if viewing a train wreck, we sit transfixed contemplating John Cook's uncivil commentary on the man. That has been published on GAWKER, which you can read here.
Both in the tone and content of the piece, Cook has crossed some lines , only we don't know which ones. Could they be grouped under the umbrella of "extreme candor," which we have seen a lot of in tabloid journalism such as GAWKER's? Or has Cook violated the canons of civility in public discourse and in the process lowered the quality of the human conversation. After all, there is a whole code in the U.S. Senate for how to address and talk about one's adversaries. Out there on the street, if one took on Cook's tone, in a raised voice, that person would likely be arrested for disorderly conduct.
Back in 1999, Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter expressed his concern about how human beings were treating one another in his book "Civility." Last September, Bob Dilenschneider of the Dilenschneider Group, a public affairs boutique, organized a series of lectures on civility to be delivered in Fairfield County, Connecticut. It will continue until May 2013.
Will there be two Americas? One could be the GAWKER kind in which there are no rules of rhetoric. Everything I struggled to learn in Freshman Composition at Seton Hill College, Greensburg, Pennsylvania, and Legal Writing at Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, is kaput. (You can read my legal blog here.) The other is the return to the path of respect for both people, including our adversaries, and for language.
My hunch is that it could be the latter, with the backlash against the Cook approach to deconstructing a public figure's life and philosophy.