A case for civility

September 02, 2005

SOMETIME AROUND 6 p.m. tomorrow, when the opposing captains from the Naval Academy and the University of Maryland football teams assemble for the opening coin toss at M&T Bank Stadium, VIPs representing both institutions, military and civilian, will join them on the field. But what of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.?

As of last night, he hadn't decided whether to take part, a spokesman says. That, at least, is better than the initial brush-off that he gave to officials at the University of Maryland. The problem, apparently, is that joining state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch for the brief ceremonial moment might just be too painful for the governor to bear. We suggest he take a deep breath and do it anyway.

Strong feelings and childish behavior have become a hallmark of Navy-Maryland football. It was, after all, the single-digit salute to the Midshipmen offered by Maryland linebacker Jerry Fishman during a 1964 game that's helped keep the two teams apart for four decades. And to this day, the 61-year-old Mr. Fishman offers no sign of remorse. He's never apologized for his behavior and even recently suggested Navy change its mascot from a goat to a chicken for avoiding Maryland all these years.

Mr. Busch yesterday called the governor's behavior "unbelievably petty," and it's difficult to argue with that assessment. At least Mr. Fishman was a young man playing an emotional sport when he chose to violate conventional standards of behavior. Mr. Ehrlich can't offer that excuse. Whether the governor likes it or not, Mr. Busch and Mr. Miller were elected to office and have a right to their opinions - even when they conflict with the governor's. And it's certainly appropriate for them to be on the field tomorrow. Mr. Busch's district includes the Naval Academy; Mr. Miller may be Maryland athletics' biggest booster in the State House.

This isn't, admittedly, the first time a thin-skinned politician has gotten into a swivet. But really, isn't enough enough? President Ronald Reagan was famous for keeping a civil relationship with Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill, one of his harshest critics in Congress. An effective leader understands that sometimes a bit of tact is necessary if you want to get things done.

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