Barnyard Rhetoric

Perhaps it’s a sign of advancing fogeyism, but we lately find ourselves yearning for a bygone era when political campaigns were conducted with proper decorum. There was always mud-slinging, dissembling, thuggery, and all manner of other unpleasantness, but at least the candidates could be counted on to refrain from cursing in the presence of children and mothers.

Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has thus far been as fastidiously proper as the man himself, but Barack Obama’s re-election bid has too often descended into vulgarity. Thursday’s news exposed yet another example. The offending party was Obama himself, who gave an interview with Rolling Stone in which he characterized his opponent with what its politely called a “barnyard epithet.” We’ll not re-state the word here, so let it suffice to say it’s a familiar term generally used to describe someone malodorously dishonest.

Lest we be accused of fuddy-duddiness we still stipulate that the term is relatively mild by today’s degraded standards, and confess that we have also employed it on a few occasions when in the company of rough men or the more worldly sorts of women, but it’s not the sort of language that one uses in the more respectable circles Rolling Stone’s high-brow readers presumably frequent. There have undoubtedly been previous presidents who used the term — Lyndon Johnson was famously foul-mouthed, Richard Nixon introduced the term “expletive deleted” to the lexicon, and one can only imagine what Andrew Jackson let loose with after a jug or two — but all were careful not to do so within earshot of the public.

Most of the president’s critics have focused on the rich irony of his using term to describe anyone else, and it certainly is audacious for the man who won office promising universal health care and middle-class tax cuts and endless entitlements while halving the deficit in four years to make such an accusation. More energetic scribes than ourselves are required to catalog all of the malodorous dishonesty that Obama has shoveled during his brief political career, from the phony-baloney cost figures he used to sell Obamacare to his false Libyan tale to the entirety of his self-written persona, but the critics’ point is well taken.

Still, let us also save a share of opprobrium for the language that he used. Such words are polluting the culture, and it cannot help this dire situation to give them a presidential imprimatur. The next grandfather who asks the loud young men at the next table to watch their language in the presence of children will have to contend with the argument that the president and vice-president have used the same words, and that is a shame that should not go unremarked.

The phrase was probably chosen by Obama with great care, and calculated to confer an aura of proletarian authenticity that will contrast with his opponent’s more patrician bearing. This should have a special appeal to more youthful voters, who seem unable to formulate a sentence without at least one obscene amplifier, but also to a leftist base that has reveled in foul language since at least the days of Lenny Bruce. For some reason the same people who find it appropriate for the government to dictate everything from one’s choice of light bulbs to an opinion regarding affirmative action or same-sex marriage bristle at mere social conventions regarding cursing.

Modernists scoff at the notion that degrading a culture’s language will wear away at the culture itself, but we suspect that the left counts on it doing so and that is the very reason they are so prone to such language. Old-fashioned notions such as politeness and propriety are bulwarks of an established order that must be destroyed in order to bring a new utopia, and that seems to be happening one word at time.

— Bud Norman

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