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What Now? Rude, Scurrilous, Insulting. So What Else is New?

| June 30, 2012 | 0 Comments

When Rahm Emannuel, the supremely un-shy White House chief of staff, described some colleagues as “retarded,” his apology, while … declarative, was widely considered as highly insincere, and didn’t get nearly the ink and air that the insult drew.

And, that, friends, is how things are these days.

Or not.

Rosemarie Ostler has produced a handy book of insults for our reading pleasure, called “Slinging Mud. Rude Nicknames, Scurrilous Slogans and Insulting Slang …from Two Centuries of American Politics.” Given the abundance of material, I’d guess that Ms. Ostler either undertook a most daunting research project or has become perpetually depressed.

Andrew Jackson probably drew as much oppositional ire in running for president (1828), she reports, than any ‘til then. The collection of mud included his “irreligious lifestyle,” his possibly being “over-educated,” (whoa, that hurts. Maybe they meant “out of touch with middle America.”) alleged “youthful indiscretions,” which included “duels, brawls and shoot-outs.”

Can Mitt compete with that?

“Nothing personal,” said former President Jimmy Carter when he called the Bush administration, “the worst in history.”

D’you think Mitt, who seems reluctant to say anything definitive about anything or anyone, may have the right idea? The less mud you sling, the fewer counter-attacks you invite?

Not then. Not now. Today even the absence of decisive opinion could be Twitter’s most tweeted observation, to say nothing of MSNBC’s raging harangues, hanging Mitt out to dry.

Remember this? “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” Poor Dan Quayle, as if he didn’t have enough problems in 1988, nearly crumbled at Lloyd Bentsen’s attack. By now, we’ve heard that, read that, innumerable times.

You’ll recall that when, in discussion about what he considered the Republicans’ wrong-minded ideas for change, President Obama said, “You can put lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig.”

You couldn’t get away with that in the mid-1800’s – and clearly can’t get away with it now. Although the expression is a time-honored idiom, Senator McCain, along with a cast of Republican thousands, shrieked that Obama had called Ms. Palin a “pig.”

(Sarah, of course, had started it earlier, when she told the convention that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull was lipstick. Considering the furor, I’m willing to bet that the President still groans at the episode, although it undoubtedly taught him to be more careful.)

Well, nobody said the slurs had to – or have to – be true.

Where are the fact-checkers when you need ‘em?

I don’t mean to keep picking on Mitt, honest, but was it really necessary to get everyone in Cornwall riled up over ridiculing “Wawa,” the town’s favorite eatery?

Not only are you reading this here (again!), but it’s become a popular bungle all over the web. It hasn’t done him any good at all to explain, or complain (he was only kidding, jeez … ) or apologize.

(Actually, we have websites that specialize in apologies: imsorry.com, perfectapology.com and others, but nobody reads them.)

Mitt, take heart. It’s been true for 200-plus years, and truer today than ever, as PepsiCo’s CEO Indra Nooyi, in the wake of her own organizational difficulties, recently moaned,

“… leadership is very difficult, especially in today’s world, where the media doesn’t take time to (really) understand you!”

Never has.

Still, I strongly advise all public and private persons to please, please, keep a civil tongue in your mouth. Not that even this excellent advice can’t go wrong. Like Herbert Hoover’s good intentions and the derision it elicited from Calvin Coolidge: “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for the past six years – all of it bad.”

It’s been in print ever since.

Ms. Ostler’s examples stop in 2008. It’s time for a sequel.

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