The limits of tolerance

March 04, 1991

For quite a few years we have urged tolerance of William Donald Schaefer's tendency to behave as a kind of terrible-tempered Mr. Bang; it is just one of his little eccentricities which arises out of impatience to get on with the good works that he seeks to accomplish. But his petulant performance last Thursday of bursting unannounced into a legislative committee session, then retreating into the private office of Del. Thomas F. Maloney, a top figure in the leadership of the General Assembly, really stretches comity and civility to the snapping point.

It scarcely needs stating that the undergirding genius of our governmental system is the separation of powers in which three branches of government are coequal. This being so, Schaefer had no more right to burst into Maloney's hearing than Maloney would have to burst into Schaefer's private office. This behavior more befits the ruler of a banana republic than a state where democracy has flourished for more than 200 years.

It is also fair to ask, is the governor nursing such an obsessive grudge that it is beginning to affect the performance of his duties? Speaking last week at a breakfast meeting of a Maryland business group, Schaefer made the sensible, balanced presentation that one would expect of a person of his office and experience. But as he neared the end of his remarks, anger suddenly and unexpectedly poured out like a torrent of bile. What's happened to our sense of humor, he asked, when the governor can't make a joke -- referring, of course, to his allusion to the Eastern Shore as a "s--- house." Why must we "humiliate" the governor by making him "apologize" for such offhand remarks?

As it happened, among those in the audience was Henry Kissinger, a master of the public sense of humor. Some years ago when Kissinger was being accused of being "paranoid," he responded with aplomb: "Even us paranoids have enemies."

You might paraphrase the remark to say that even paranoids have friends -- as was attested by Schaefer's landslide re-election last November. But paranoia also can be self-fulfilling. If you think everyone is out to get you and start acting on that suspicion, pretty soon you will be right.

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