I’m tempted to treat our state’s political players in Sacramento like I do my kids, and tell them to keep their hands to themselves.

The problem is that doesn’t work with my kids, at least not for long. And it’s unlikely to deter Sacramento

Politics, like it or not, is a tactile business, not a sterile one. It involves – and indeed requires – human touch. And when humans start touching each other, conflict is inevitably one result.

Over the past year, we have seen endless controversy from Sacramento over questions of touch. And there has been retribution, investigation and argument.

Some of this touching – the stuff that belongs in the #MeToo category – is clearly out of bounds, and requires action. But politicians also operate on the boundaries of touching. And so we have had controversies over three forms of touching – hugging, shoving and, yes, noogies.

Each has sparked investigation, condemnation, expressions of regret – and some backlash against those who would police natural human touching. I, for one, find myself in the middle, struggling with the ethics of each.

On the one hand, people should not be touched in ways that make them uncomfortable. On the other, touch is part of life. Indeed, expressing physical connection and even using physical intimidation (think of LBJ, who liked to crowd people and manhandle people as he sought votes) can be useful in politics. So let’s consider the pros and cons.

  1. Hugs

Pros: The hug was the signature of Huggy Bear, aka State Senator Bob Hertzberg. He sought a connection with people, and to express warmth in a world that can be harsh and cold. I have been a happy recipient of many of his hugs.

Cons. But some people don’t like to be hugged, especially in professional situations. Some found his hugs too close. And I have wondered about the perils of his hug of people from behind—there is an element of surprise. So Hertzberg apologized and has dialed back the hugging.

  1. Shoves

Pros: Sometimes people are in your way in politics. Apparently, SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West president Dave Regan saw Assemblyman Richard Bloom as in his way when he shoved him at a restaurant in downtown Sacramento. Presumably, it wasn’t to get to the food, which isn’t particularly good in the downtown Sacramento places that political types haunt.

A man representing labor has to do some pushing around, and shoves befit a union that has a reputation for hardball tactics. And shoving beats other, more violent alternatives, like slugging people or shooting them, both of which are common in America and both of which can leave a mark.

Cons: Shoving can be assault, and can lead to other injuries and hard feelings. Bloom probably isn’t going to vote Regan’s way unless he really wants to. It’s also childish; the last time I was involved in shoving was during a 7th grade dance at Westridge School for Girls.

  1. Noogies

Pros. John Moorlach, a Republican state senator from Orange County, hands out noogies to members of the public, often during photo opportunities. He finds this an expression of fun, and it is good to have fun, especially when your party is going over racist Trumpian cliff.

More broadly, a case could be made that California voters deserve to have noogies, especially if it increases blood flows in their brains. Just look at the way they vote – irresponsibly for ballot measures that often add spending or tax breaks without paying for them; Californians also like to blame politicians for messes they themselves created. In this context, Moorlach is offering the public a mild corrective; indeed, by the same logic, he could probably justify kicking some of his constituents in the head.

Cons: Noogies often hurt. At least the ones that Ryan Hemond gave me in the sixth grade hurt. It’s not friendly. It’s very frat-boy. And the legislature has too much of a frat-boy image already. They also won’t help Moorlach in his efforts to get control of our state’s out-of-control and unfunded retirement obligations.

Given the arguments on both sides, where should we come down?

I think the most rational ethics of legislative hugging-shoving-noggie-ing are situational.

Political players should avoid such practices – unless they actually serve a public purpose.

We have a legislature not to provide models of good behavior. We have a legislature to solve difficult problems in our state. So in lawmaking, the ends are far more important than the means.

This means that Hertzberg should be hugging people only when it advances major legislation like ending bail (which, according to news photos, occasioned some hugs). And I feel like he can squeeze people uncomfortably hard if it would ever help him get real traction on tax reform.

Noogies are OK, too, if Moorlach can harass his fellow legislators and governors to pension reform. And I think it’d be worth all kinds of shoving – and even the fisticuffs you see in Taiwan’s legislature – if it could convince the legislature to vote to establish a convention to give California the new modern constitution it needs.

Yes, California governance is not child’s play. But if progress can be achieved by legislators behaving like children, then they should hug and shove and noogie as much as they like.

But when there is no public purpose at stake, lawmakers should strive to conduct themselves at least at the level of grade schoolers.