April 28, 2005
We were reflecting with Relapsed Catholic and her readers' ideas on "being mean." One of the folks who occasionally visits The Chez, "Barbara from Elsewhere," wrote
I'm reminded of the bumper sticker "Mean People Suck." The driver of said car almost always looks sub-intelligent, with a permanent not-nice resentful look on her face.
I have a whole psychoanalytic theory of men requiring us to be "nice." The angry mother is the most frightening thing an infant can encounter... That's also why strangers will walk up to a woman and tell her to "smile."
She also liked Joseph Epstein's piece in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required, long excerpt follows):
If I could begin my life again I should like to arrange things so that the word got out that I am a fairly decent fellow, not entirely charmless, but with a mean streak that, wrongly provoked, has been known to run to violence. "I know a guy," I shouldn't at all mind having it reported of me, "who once saw Joseph Epstein so angry he strangled a bulldog."
...Somehow I am less interested knowing how hard Mr. Bolton was on people who he felt had failed to do their jobs than he has been on secretaries, waiters, and others who cannot fight back, which seems to me a truer test of a person's decency.
When [mythically "mean"] MacLean retired he wrote an essay for the alumni magazine in which he said he took his own tough-guy model from a teacher of his own at the university, a man who, on the first day of class, assigned a 3,000-word essay for the second day class, remarking as he did so that "This is just to show you that grandma has teeth."
Among recent presidents, Jimmy Carter is supposed to have ticked to the max fairly easily. Lyndon Johnson's fury turned loose must have required measurement on a Richter scale. Bill Clinton, old Mr. Geniality himself, is said to have turned impressively ugly when angry, which he was fairly often.
It's interesting that sometimes regular everyday Grandmas are not expected even to possess incisors, whereas wolves may be lionized piecemakers.
...something in the way he said it made us believe that if we did not respond to this entreaty, he, too, might feel the Kennedy wrath.
Peggy Noonan has a little list, too, and believes many of us do.
"...all the way back. Jefferson was a man of public dignity and the meanest private plotting. Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton. (I here invite all readers who work in government to give, in one paragraph, their memory of Most Obnoxious Hissy Fit by or Most Appalling Style of any unnamed government official with whom they have worked, and what they learned from it.)
Via Betsy's Page.