Rude, insulting language about Romney (“bullsh****r) from the president. Vulgar sexual innuendo, aimed at seducing young women to vote for him. The vice president asking a bereaved parent about the size of his murdered son’s testicles. It’s quite a spectacle. We’re a fractious people, and our politics have always been full of colorful language, but I can’t recall the current depth of vulgarity. The “politics of personal destruction” have gotten uglier. Does it mean anything? Should we try to understand it?
First, it bespeaks a coarsening of public language. No surprise there (Romney’s gentlemanlyness is more surprising, in fact); for a long time our movies and television have abandoned the rules that banned certain words and phrases. Still, until recently, our political leaders have avoided such vulgarities, at least in their public rhetoric. No more, at least at the highest level of the current Democrat Party.
Second, it shows the shrinking vocabulary of our political life. There are plenty of usable and powerful synonyms of “buls*****r,” but a graduate of Harvard Law School didn’t have any of them on the tip of his tongue. Or perhaps he just preferred the vulgarity.
Third, it is yet another step in the erasure of the line that once divided public and private. We always knew that there was (sometimes) a big difference between public image and private behavior. No man (except maybe Sir Winston) is a hero to his valet, etc. etc. But still, there were proprieties, rules for public decorum, and those who fell from grace in public were criticized and excoriated for falling. No more, at least so far as I can see among the Democrat faithful.
To be sure, there’s a difference between the two parties. When male Republican candidates make disgusting and ridiculous statements about rape, the faithful turn on them, properly so IMHO, but neither Obama nor Biden has come in for punishment for their use of obscenities and vulgarities.
So the rules for proper decorum are out the window, and the former arbiters of good taste are on board, ratifying the changes by their silence. It’s a shame, but there you have it.
But the arbiters–the intellectuals, the elite punditocracy et. al.–can’t dictate standards to the rest of us, even though they often delude themselves into believing they can. The politicians who indulge in the new nastiness clearly believe it’s fine with us, because they think their elitist friends dictate standards to the rest of us. I think they’re wrong. When only EIGHT PERCENT of Americans have a positive view of the media, it tells you something, after all. And when I read about the sudden 7 percent drop in Obama’s approval ratings in three days, I suspect it has something to do with bulls*****r and losing-your-virginity-is-like-voting-for-Barack ads, and Biden’s disgusting remarks to a bereaved father.
It’s a continuation of a process that began with the first debate, in which Obama tip-toed out from behind the curtain on the central stage of Oz, and showed us who he really is. Not a great leader, certainly not a messianic figure. Indeed, as we now see, he’s a bum. It’s a shock to lots of Americans, who previously were willing to grant that the president had his faults but was basically a good man, a nice guy, and a cultured gentleman. He showed them he was none of those things.
I think that was a real shock to a meaningful chunk of the electorate, and it would not have been nearly so potent if it had come from a book or an oped. Its power comes from the fact that Obama showed it himself.
It shouldn’t have been hard to foresee the consequences of his self-revelation. So why did he do it? He’s certainly capable of dissimulation. The One who won the presidency four years ago did not present himself this way. He and his acolytes very carefully portrayed him as a transcendent figure, a new kind of leader, the incarnation of elegance and brilliance. And that succeeded. So what’s up?
I think he’s cracking, and the inner nastiness and vulgarity are on display. He’s losing, and he’s angry, and he can no longer sustain the pretense of elegance and coolness.
Nobody ever said he was disciplined, did they?
Moreover, he is the victim of his own myth, the “I have a special gift” legend that is the core doctrine of his powerful narcissism. He thinks he is so charismatic, and so wonderful, that if we see him in all his splendor, we will love him as he so loves himself.
I think that’s false, and I think the shifts in the polls–people suddenly like Romney, people suddenly turning away from Obama–demonstrate that. We’ll see for sure on the 6th of November.