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Mark Shields - 08/14/09

Whatever happened to manners? Recently, my wife and I were two of the guests at a dinner party for eight in the home of friends. Two of the other guests were, by Washington standards, VIPs, of the kind whom have their own assigned parking spaces or are guests on the Sunday talk shows.

I was amazed that during the evening these two VIPs did not go more than three minutes without checking for e-mails, news items or texting on their handheld BlackBerrys. Neither made any real effort to conceal what he was doing; it was almost a boast of their self-importance.

Maybe I'm being too harsh. Maybe such individuals cannot help themselves in their addiction to their wireless handheld computers. Perhaps technology, like alcohol, turns out to be a good servant but a terrible master.

Over the last year and a half - when things have been so bad that Snow White was forced to lay off three of the dwarves - it's fair to say that economic forecasting has given a new respectability to astrology.

The rosy reports that the recession is nearing a welcome end raises two worries: First, when will we get back to the good old days? Second, what if these are the good old days?

Your memory is still working if you can remember when Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman was a Democrat and when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a Republican, and if you can recall when American banks were in the business of giving loans instead of getting them.

Which is the most politically corrupt of our 50 states? The finalists have usually included Illinois, Louisiana, maybe, New York and West Virginia.

The recent federal indictments of dozens of mayors, public officials and rabbis on bribery and money laundering establishes New Jersey as No. 1 in the race to the bottom. Not simply because of the volume of indictments and resignations, but because, while most ethically-challenged political figures in other jurisdictions stick unimaginatively to the selling of liquor licenses or zoning variances or asphalt contracts, only in the Garden State would public corruption include illegal trafficking in black-market kidneys.

In spite of the terrible economic times, we still have an unwelcome surplus of restaurant waiters who must be members of the Hapsburg royal family; they are just keeping themselves bored until they receive official notice of their rightful restoration to the throne. You know the type with the studied sneer, which suggests that there must be something odoriferous on the sole of your shoe.

Save yourself some time by ignoring all the endless articles on the urgent importance of any health care reform plan being "bipartisan." It would be nice if both Republicans and Democrats locked arms and supported the same reform bill, but we Americans, being committed pragmatists, care infinitely more about the product than we do about the process that produced it.

You know the debate is getting sterile when the same politicians, who decry and denigrate as un-American any "government-run" health care plan, in the very next paragraph swear their loyalty to protecting and preserving Medicare, which, of course, is a "government-run" health care plan.

Just about 25 years ago, too many Democrats sought to dismiss Ronald Reagan by calling him a "great communicator." Then they were actually disparaging American voters by implying that those voters had been seduced by a "smooth" messenger, that the message - what Mr. Reagan actually said - somehow did not matter. That was not true, since an awful lot of voters liked Reagan's message.

The same is true today. Yes, just like Reagan, Barack Obama is a "great communicator," but voters both hear and like Mr. Obama's message as well.

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.