Words can elevate, they can inspire; they can call people to action. Words can also drag you down, they can make you look ignorant, they can make you look foolish. Worst of all, under the right circumstances, they can make you look disdainful and arrogant.
Recently, the President of the United States called his political rival a “bullshitter” during a campaign speech. Yep, profanity on the stump, uttered by the President of the United States, as part of his prepared remarks. We are not talking about someone who thinks his microphone is off, muttering to a campaign aide; or who just dropped a teleprompter on his foot and cut loose with an understandably colorful exclamatory metaphor. No, in this case, Obama used profanity to curry favor with his audience, he used it on purpose and in a calculated way.
The English Language has deteriorated over the last few decades to a point where profanity is now seen as little more than verbal punctuation. Our standards have so slipped that verbal obscenity is now actually so commonplace all over our media, from rap “music” to shows like “Family Guy” that entertainers who stay “clean” are news. All this has degraded our culture, coarsened our national discourse, gave us childish and imagination-free “entertainment,” and left us wondering where the line should be drawn, if it should be drawn anywhere.
Now the President, who has traditionally been above such things, has weighed in on the side of decay.
There was a time when we actually looked up the President. He was a kind of national father figure and we expected him to be better and wiser than we are. That lasted pretty much until George Bush I, when the country really began the process of polarization that has brought us to the political divide we face today. Now, we separate the office from the man, and pay lip service to the office while exposing and exploiting every human moment, every foible, every personal mistake, every difficulty faced by the man occupying the office.
In this environment, our Presidents have tried to maintain a level of dignity, staying above the fray and working to preserve the prestige of the presidency. Clinton did some damage, true, but most of his issues took place before his presidential term; and as for his transgressions during his presidency, they were dealt with in a constitutionally appropriate way.
On the face of it, you might consider the things that Clinton did to be worse than Obama’s profane description of Romney, and on many levels you would be right. However, we tend to expect lies and sexual bad behavior from our politicians, an expectation that has existed throughout human history, no matter how elevated the culture. What we don’t expect is for our leader to purposely embrace cultural decay to win political points, and that is what Obama did. True, he has no valid arguments to make on the economy, in foreign policy, or anything else, so he has to accuse Romney of being deceitful. Maybe Obama was simply running out of ways to call Romney a liar, but with that one word, he degraded himself, he degraded his office, and he has demonstrated profound arrogance in not addressing that issue.
Is that what we want in a president?