My nine-year-old daughter looked at the front page of the paper, and her eyes grew wide:
The president said “ass”?
She swallowed the A-word, because it is, after all, the A-word. I nodded; he said that. She was silent for a while, digesting the information. Presidents, after all, are part of the great Pantheon of Authority, standing over the school principal, teachers, the pastor, police, and perhaps the mailman. To consider them using bad words reordered everything. Unless …
“He didn’t mean donkey,” she said, this being the only possible explanation. I shook my head. It will now be difficult to tell her not to use that word; it will now be a matter of time before my wife says, “Well, your daughter was sounding presidential today,” and it won’t be a reference to mankind’s universal aspirations. Unless you include the desire to kick BP’s tuckus, which seems fairly widespread.
Daughter asked for context, and was doubly nonplussed: he doesn’t know? True: if there’s one thing a child expects the president to know, it’s Everything. Adults may share the confusion. Adults may wonder if we will need a blue-ribbon panel to investigate just which fundaments require the application of the POTUS heel. (They will report back in six months and recommend federal oversight of the shoe industry.)
Barack Obama is probably the last guy you’d think would introduce “ass” into the mainstream political discourse. It’s like Spock announcing he wants to “knock boots” — a expression both crude and banal coming from someone renowned for dispassionate cool. But the idea that the president should confine himself to polite terminology is one of those antiquated chocks that prohibit true, honest expression, and if the post-Boomer culture has taught us any-effin-thing, it’s that authentic people use earthy language, authentically, and only the spats-and-monocle crowd insist on the verbal equivalent of the raised pinky and other useless vestiges of high-tea manners.