Do we live in a crueler, rougher society?

If you think we do, you’ll appreciate George Will’s  column on defining decency down. Among other things, Will tackles the faux apology, a genre popular in Washington. He also points out what the tone deafness of departing A.G. Alberto Gonzales’ mawkish farewell remarks says about values:

“As [Gonzales] habitually has done, he reminded the nation that he has “lived the American Dream,” which he evidently thinks is epitomized by his success in attaching himself to a politician not known for demanding quality in assistants. Gonzales then demonstrated how uncomprehending he is of essential American values. He said: ‘Even my worst days as attorney general have been better than my father’s best days.’

“Well. His father married and had eight children-nine wonderful days, days even better, one would have thought, than any of the days his son spent floundering at the Justice Department. Furthermore, Gonzales’s father had the fulfillment of a lifetime spent providing for his family. But what is any of that, Gonzales implies, compared with the satisfaction of occupying, however unsatisfactorily, a high office? This implicit disparagement of his father’s life of responsibility and self-sufficiency turns conservatism inside out. It is going to take conservatism a while to recuperate from becoming associated with such people.”

And this bit of adolescent cruelty gone big time:

“Last week, there was nationwide merriment at the expense of an 18-year-old participant in a South Carolina beauty pageant. Asked a question about why many Americans might lack elementary knowledge about the world, she got lost in syntactical tangles and spoke nonsense. Although there was not a shred of news value in it, Fox News and CNN played the tape of her mortification, and by last Friday YouTube’s presentation of it had generated more than 10 million hits. The casual cruelty of publicizing her discomfort, and the widespread entertainment pleasure derived from it, is evidence that standards of decency are evolving in the wrong direction.”