Politicians trying to “connect” with the public are apparently following in the tracks of comedians, the entertainment industry and R-rated singers by lacing their rhetoric with an old-fashioned dose of coarseness.
Last week, The Associated Press noted that three Northeastern politicians — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter — each dropped in some select foul language recently at public meetings where that sort of thing, historically, has been avoided. In the past, officials have slipped a curse word or two when they didn’t realize the microphones were on, but in these cases, each official knew their voices were being carried and recorded.
There’s never been any doubt that elected officials routinely express themselves in less-than-genteel terms in the privacy of their offices and in the presence of people they trust. If there had been any doubt, it should have disappeared the minute President Nixon’s Oval Office recordings hit the streets.
In fact, that Nixionian assault of salty language shocked many Americans who, quite frankly, had bought into the public personas that various candidates sold on the campaign trail.
But at least the politicians of yesteryear had the decency to hide their vulgar language for the most part, even better, in most cases, than they hid their extramarital dalliances and ethical lapses. Both the current vice president, Joe Biden, and his immediate predecessor, Dick Cheney, have dropped the F-bomb — the “granddaddy of cuss words” — in public settings.
Being “edgy,” however, may be seen these days as an edge for political types who are always looking for one.
“My sense is: Because they want to appear to be in tune with popular culture, politicians feel free to express themselves in profane ways,” Rutgers University political scientist Ross K. Baker told AP, adding that he found the trend to be troubling.
“I honestly do believe that, in aping the coarseness of popular culture, people in public life are really dragging us into a discourse of fang and claw,” he said.
For adults and, unfortunately, even children, most of the words being dropped to create an illusion of toughness and steel resolve aren’t completely foreign to our ears, but you’d think that our leaders could find ways to express themselves that indicated their vocabularies weren’t primarily cultivated at pool halls, frat parties and strip clubs.
Indeed, there was a time when Americans, perhaps naively, looked up to elected officials as public servants whose mission was to uplift the nation and make it better. Now, these politicos appear to prefer to speak on the same base level as the entertainers who strive for the lowest common denominator and whose celebrity status they long to share, de facto royalty in a nation whose Founding Fathers took pains to avoid that very thing in government.
It’s a trend that, given the modern culture, is likely to only get worse. A word of caution to young parents — when you see them on the campaign trail, don’t let them kiss your baby with those potty mouths.
Email Editor Jim Hendricks at