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Bold talk

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Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has called the dogs off a high school student who'd spoken harshly of him. Some see this as admission that it's hard not to speak harshly of Sam Brownback, but more likely, the governor's uncharacteristic display of tolerance was prompted by all the criticism he was receiving from people who believed a governor should have better things to do than seek retribution on an 18-year-old girl, even a mouthy one.

For her part, Emma Sullivan says that she's still a liberal, still disagrees with the far-right Brownback on just about everything, and still plans to enroll next year at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. She'll find a few fellow liberals there, although the Waltons seem to have the campus on a rather tight leash these days, and Sullivan may not like them any better than Brownback, many of whose views they share. She'll probably let us know.

Sullivan was in a group of high school students touring the Kansas capitol in Topeka to learn about state government. While Brownback was speaking to the group, Sullivan tweeted that the governor "sucks," a common expression of disapproval among high-schoolers today. An aide to the governor saw the remark while monitoring the social media, and before long Sullivan's high school principal was demanding she write a letter of apology to the governor. Wisely, that demand has now been dropped, and both the school and the governor's office say they won't pursue the matter further.

Conservative commentators see the Sullivan incident a further evidence of the decline of civility in the nation's political discourse. And it probably is, to a degree, though it's more illustrative that people are still struggling with communications technology that puts everybody and everything on the record, immediately. A truer example of declining civility was the booing, by adults, of Michelle Obama and Jill Biden at a NASCAR race a few days earlier. The two were present as part of a charitable campaign to support veterans and their families.

Mrs. Obama's husband, the president, has been called a liar to his face by a U.S. representative while Mr. Obama was addressing a joint session of Congress. The offender was much celebrated in his and Governor Brownback's party. Nobody sets the civility bar lower than Rush Limbaugh, and the Far Right loves him for it. A high school student's disparagement of a public official is not nearly so shocking as a grown man's making fun of a junior-high-school girl's looks, as Limbaugh did with Chelsea Clinton. A Republican presidential nominee, John McCain, joined in the sport.

Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe is far from perfect, but he's far from Sam Brownback too. Sullivan and Brownback will both be happier with her in Beebe's jurisdiction.

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