Jim Dey: Lawmakers don't know what lewd behavior is?

Jim Dey: Lawmakers don't know what lewd behavior is?

Comedian Jeff Foxworthy built a successful career and a substantial fortune by appealing to audiences with a brand of humor built on exaggerated stereotypes.

Speaking to audiences that elites might characterize as including "red necks," he lampooned the whole idea of a term chiefly used for a rural poor white person of the southern United States by taking kernels of truth and blowing them up beyond recognition.

He would invite members of his audience to submit to the "redneck" identification test by considering certain scenarios.

"You might be a redneck," he would suggest, "if ..."

"Your school fight song was "Dueling Banjos."

"You've ever financed a tattoo."

"You consider a family reunion a good place to pick up girls."

"You keep a can of Raid on the kitchen table."

"Your mother has 'ammo' on her Christmas list."

Yes, some readers might be rednecks if any of those behaviors apply to them.

In that vein, it's instructive to consider the sexual-harassment awareness training that state legislators received last week.

As part of the fallout from the controversy currently sweeping the nation, including the General Assembly in Springfield, terrified male legislators of both parties are trying to inoculate themselves against misconduct charges, among other things, by decrying alleged improprieties, filling a legislative inspector general's post that was vacant for nearly three years, and learning the "do's and don'ts" of dealing with female legislators, lobbyists and reporters.

So they trooped into class last week for sexual-harassment awareness training — Republicans segregated from Democrats.

The only thing missing was a variation of Jeff Foxworthy's red neck test — "You might be a sexual harasser if ..."

Under the category of "unwanted physical contact" came such no-nos as "kissing," "pinching" and "hugging."

Yes, you might be a sexual harasser if ... you start kissing a female lobbyist without her permission.

Under the category of "unwelcome verbal behaviors," our legislators were told that they might be engaged in sexual harassment if they make "sexual propositions," tell dirty jokes or make "threats."

Yes, you might be a sexual harasser if ... you tell a lewd joke to a female lobbyist while making a sexual proposition that includes a threat to bury her legislation if she doesn't play nice.

Then there is the matter of "unwelcome non-verbal behavior." Under no circumstances should legislators make "suggestive noises" while "staring" at a female lobbyist's chest and making "obscene gestures."

Yes, you might be a sexual harasser if ... you start howling like a coon dog while re-creating the romantic dance steps of a rutting pig.

Who knew?

Actually, everyone knows. Adults — both men and women — don't engage in problematic behavior without realizing they're pushing the envelope. They know they're pushing the envelope but do it anyway. Even the most tone-deaf among them have to recognize these admonitions as insultingly obvious.

Then, again, none of them want to end up like state Sen. Ira Silverstein, the Chicago Democrat who was publicly denounced as a sexual harasser by a female lobbyist two weeks ago.

The only evidence against Silverstein that's been made public is the transcript of a Facebook chat in which Silverstein and his accuser, lobbyist Denise Rotheimer, engaged in a cringe-worthy, juvenile discussion that was mutually flirtatious.

No matter — it's off with his head.

Silverstein has been stripped of his legislative leadership post, lost $20,000 in pay, attracted opposition in the March primary, and pretty much became the poster boy for bad behavior in Springfield.

On Thursday, The Chicago Tribune's lead editorial was headlined, "Why is Ira Silverstein still a member of the Illinois Senate?" Yeah, why indeed?

With that kind of vilification as the unappetizing alternative, it's no wonder our noble legislators are sitting quietly and pretending to listen to recitations of the obvious.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-351-5369.