The back and forth between Governor Dan Malloy and former Governor John Rowland, now a radio talk show host, reached a plateau in the American Spectator. Dueling would be the next logical step beyond personal recrimination, if dueling had not been illegalized in the early 1800’s after Aaron Burr had at Alexander Hamilton.
In the heyday of American journalism, Abe Lincoln trampled roughly on the tender feelings of a political opponent he had pilloried in the then highly partisan press, resulting in a challenge on the field of honor. The aggrieved party, James Shields, and Mr. Lincoln managed to work out their differences without piercing each other with broad swords, but by this time dueling was on its way out.
Mr. Lincoln, who never disclosed who had written the political piece that was the occasion of the duel, had the choice of weapons. On the field of honor, Lincoln lopped off a branch with his broadsword and Mr. Shields, perceiving that Lincoln had an insuperable advantage in reach, successfully negotiated his way out of the duel. Having learned his lesson, Mr. Lincoln in the future trimmed his language accordingly, though he did maintain a healthy humor in both his letters and public documents that certainly cut like a sword.
As dueling declined, parties whose reputations were injured took their quarrels to court. In American jurisprudence, it is today nearly impossible to a win a libel case in court – largely because Americans wish to preserve robust debate, and proving libel involves showing that the putative libeler had with malice. Then too, the First Amendment, almost a permit to rude behavior, stands guard over intemperate speech. Unrestrained liberty of this kind has opened the door to bad manners. The possibility of near certain death on the field of honor, whatever its moral deficiencies, had a positive effect on political manners. In our day – a time of talk radio, anonymous bloggers, uninhibited journalism and an absence of restraining sanctions – good manners, and even cutting humor, have gone the way of dueling.
“The trouble with bad manners,” said Bill Buckley, whose manners were nearly faultless, “is that they sometime lead to murder.” It should be noted that in addition to having been found guilty by a jury of his peers of murder, rape and arson, Steven Hayes, who now sits on Connecticut’s death row, was also avaricious, stupid, brutally rude and ill mannered.
In a phone call with a reporter for the American Spectator, Mr. Rowland characterized Mr. Malloy as “a ‘pathological liar’ who cribs buzzwords from the Obama administration to deflect from his disastrous job performance,” according to the Spectator report.
This aroused the antipathy of Mr. Malloy’s major domo and alter ego, senior gubernatorial advisor Roy Occhiogrosso, who retorted that Mr. Rowland’s retort was “ … a bit like Snooki calling someone cheap," according to a report in CTMirror.
The CTMirror reporter explained helpfully that Mr. Rowland “a convicted felon who admitted to a lie or two during his 2 ½ terms as governor,” might be uplifted by the controversy: “Rowland should be grateful to Malloy and Occhiogrosso. In talk radio, controversy is a friend, and the biggest insult is to be ignored.”
After Mr. Rowland apologized for having called Mr. Malloy a “pathological liar,” the unforgiving and unrelenting Mr. Occhiogrosso responded, “Obviously, this guy has no shame. He robbed the state blind, got thrown in jail and now he peddles himself as some sort of a born-again Christian? He's a fraud. Usually, I ignore him. When he calls my boss a pathological liar, I have to respond.” And it goes without saying that few of Mr. Rowland’s political enemies are willing to put aside their bludgeons and discuss the inoffensive non-personal assertions he made, when they can more easily point to his scarlet letter and suggest that every assertion dripping from his lying tongue must be corrupt because he was corrupt. Ad hominum attacks continue to be the last refuge of scoundrels who are too lazy or dull to provide responsive responses. Dueling was less disreputable, if more deadly.