There is a doomsday clock somewhere ticking down the moments until ... well something. Political rhetoric has become as nonsensical as a child's nursery rhyme, and the real consequences of the so-called "debt ceiling" talks will likely be a surprise to just about everyone involved. The trouble with the ideological rifts between the left and the right is that there are just as many rifts within their own caucuses. The state legislature is much the same, where consensus went on vacation and has not been seen since. But, for all the political theater, I am reminded of the old adage that it is never as bad as anyone says it is. It is never as good either.

It becomes an arms race. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) got into a bit of a spat with her colleague Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) around a week or so ago. In Rep. Wasserman Schultz's prepared floor remarks, she criticized Rep. West's support of a plan that would cut benefits to Medicare recipients in both of their districts. In response, he sent her an e-mail informing her that she was "the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the US House of Representatives." And that was just the opening line. He also went on to inform her that she was not a lady. My eyeglass prescription is out of date, but she is most definitely a lady from what I can see.

This tells me a few things about our elected officials. One, that to dare to disagree with them is a personal attack, and that purported attack is worthy of a rambling personal attack in return times five thousand. Whatever. What is said in the halls of government is often for grandstanding to appeal to their base. I'm guessing that Rep. West's constituents wanted him to demonize a fellow member of congress. Because she's also a woman, he likely did not even think twice about it. Surely she'd just "know her role," right?

That idea frustrates me. Now, truth be told, I spend a good bit of time around headstrong women. But there isn't some "role" that women are supposed to play -- it is not the 1950s. But I run into a lot of folks who seem to feel that way. Even the offhanded jokes that a woman should be "in the kitchen" comes across as offensive (and you have earned whatever consequences that befall you for saying that quip). If I say that my wife "should be in the kitchen," it is because I am a danger to myself and all that are around me when I step into one.

An example of this notion that a woman "has a place" came recently while I was trying to negotiate a fairly sizable purchase that was going to be split among three friends. Dealings aside, a female friend of mine was there with me, staying out of the conversation. When she had finally had enough of what had become a circular argument, she bluntly spelled out the only terms we would accept, and if that was not going work, so be it. The salesman's reaction was something along the lines of "how dare she speak up; can't she see that men are talking?" A follow-up message from him implied that she was "difficult" and discounted her involvement in the conversation at all. I'm sure his mamma would be proud of him.

But that's the thing -- I have heard stories of generations of men having a similar belief that their wife or daughter should not speak up "when men are talking." Similar subjugation happened at large family gatherings, when the men the house got fed first, women fed the kids, and then the same folks who worked to prepare the meal ate last. Make the mistake of breaking this "natural order" of things and run the risk of something being said or at least a lot of condescending stares. It must have been written somewhere. I'm sure there is a Bible verse that somebody could point me to. What the hell, man?

There has been a lot of studies done of gender equity in the workplace. For a man, being married and having a baby on the way is to put your career on steroids. I am not sure why that is -- perhaps you guarantee their loyalty when, no matter how pissed off they get, they still have to answer the basic question of "How am I gonna provide for that little baby at home?" For women, it is almost the exact opposite. It means time away from work for maternity leave, doctors appointments and even the possibility that -- shock, surprise -- it could happen more than once. Even those that don't have children are secretly looked upon as a liability that they someday might. Somehow, many managers have convinced themselves that your gender is as big a liability as not possessing a skill to do your job. Again, what the hell, man?

One of the tenants of chivalry (a subject in which I am by no means an expert) is graciousness towards women. That's admirable, but one the top tenants is of duty to all people regardless of affiliations or societal stature. Sure, the Wikipedia entry says "... all Christians," but let's go with the belief that we are all children of God. If I were to put that in more modern terms, stop being a chauvinist idiot. We do not have to yell at each other at city council meetings. Being elected to an office does not mean you get to work very little and fleece taxpayers when the opportunity presents itself. Stop being a jerk to the lady at the office because it suits your ego. You fail the "nice guy" test when you infantilize a woman to just being a "whiner" or hormonal rather than as someone with an opinion just as valid as your own.

Nothing in this post is particularly surprising. It really should be common sense and common decency. But I know that neither of those things are so common. I am also of the mindset that a majority of folks are good-natured and behave with that decency that is expected of everyone -- and that they occasionally slip up and make mistakes. The good lord knows I do. So, while the three-ring circus plays itself out in our halls of government, maybe we can be better role-models to them. We should expect better of each other, and of the yahoos we elect to serve us.