Black President Uses the Word “Ass”; What Will We Tell the Children?

The title of this post mocks a strain of American paranoia for which I have little patience: the “what about the children?” mentality.

The mighty Roger Ebert once wrote that not everything that appears on television needs to be fit for a four year-old. The fact that Obama used an extremely mild “curse word” (one that, like “pussy,” depends entirely on context) should be a non-issue. I’ll go so far as to say that if you are “offended” by it, then you are a silly person (and probably a fan of Sarah Palin—am I right?). Americans love taking umbrage more than they love patty melts.

A silly, silly person it is who would be “disappointed” or “offended” by this:

I have a couple of reactions. First, I think it was done purposely. Our president is usually scrupulously careful with his words. (And when he does occasionally let something halfway edgy slip out, it’s usually in the service of truth telling rather than empty rhetoric—as when he said the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” in arresting Skip Gates on his own porch, and as when he pointed out that many people in certain regions of our republic often “cling to guns and religion.” Both of these were, as far as I was concerned, hard truths that many Americans don’t want to acknowledge, and I was happy that, for once, it was our president who actually had the gumption to say them.) He had been receiving a lot of criticism from many bloviators—including Spike Lee—for not showing any anger or emotion about the BP disaster. Using the word “ass,” I speculate, was supposed to convey that the president was angry and emotional. This White House is pretty ham-fisted when it comes to political messaging, no?

Second, I’ve already read two blog posts about this that were fairly racist. Both were rather unlettered, and both suggested that the “profanity” unleashed by this president was, after all, to be expected. He is black, after all. And have you heard some of this rap music these days? I heard he even quoted that “black rapper” Jay-Z in a speech! (Obama did quote Jay-Z, actually; it was kind of cute/kind of weird, but not at all vulgar.) I’m not going to link to any of this garbage.

The reason it’s garbage is not just because it’s racist and ignorant of hip-hop. It’s also garbage because Obama is probably one of the least vulgar American presidents of the last 80 years. Vulgarity comes in various packagings, of course. If you want to hear some “profanity,” then listen to the Nixon tapes. Many of the conversations Nixon had in the oval office and over the telephone were peppered with the vilest, most backward-thinking language you’ll ever hear. All forms of racist, sexist, and homophobic epithet were spewed by that abject criminal. Clinton, for his part, actually acted out the curse words (impressive, when you stop to think about it). As did Kennedy, for that matter. And Ronald Reagan, for having a “White House Astrologer” on call for his simple-minded and superstitious wife, was perhaps most offensive of all.

President Obama’s (calculated) dropping of the word “ass” should, in a sensible society, not be discussed more than five minutes. And those five minutes are up…now.

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