The President’s Speech

During a recent interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said that kids have “good instincts” and added:  “They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”  Does it matter that the President used “bullshitter” in an apparent reference to Mitt Romney?  It’s just one word, after all.

I think it does matter, for two reasons.  First, the presidency remains an aspirational position — although I recognize that may be an old-fashioned view.  The President is the Leader of the Free World and the head of the world’s greatest democracy.  We want the President, through his words and deeds, to represent the best about America.  It’s what people mean when they talk about a candidate for the job appearing to be “presidential.”

Prior Presidents understood this, and paid careful attention to their public conduct and public speech.  They were careful to keep their vulgarities hidden behind the walls of the Oval Office.  When President Obama forsakes the high tones that traditionally accompany that office and uses crass language like “bullshitter” instead, it reflects a depressing coarsening of our culture.  If even the President uses gutter language to refer to his opponent, in an on-the-record comment, what does that say about our society and American culture?

Second, the President’s comment, as well as much of his recent behavior, is fundamentally contrary to the approach and persona that attracted and inspired so many people in 2008.  In that election, reporters covering an Obama speech often referred to his “soaring rhetoric” — and it was soaring.  During his “hope and change” campaign, the President consciously sounded high-minded themes that were fully consistent with the aspirational aspect of the presidency, and refrained from name-calling, cheap stunts, and other tawdry political tactics.

That is what makes the “bullshitter” reference so jarring.  It suggests that the Obama that so many found so appealing in 2012 is gone, if he ever existed.  It’s hard to envision the 2008 Obama calling someone a “bullshitter,” or making the harsh and patronizing comments about aircraft carriers and submarines in the most recent debate, among other less than idealistic behavior the President has exhibited during this campaign.  That conduct directly undercuts some of the most appealing aspects of candidate Obama in 2008, and makes people feel like they were hoodwinked when they pulled the lever for that candidate four years ago.  Americans don’t like to feel like they’ve been played for fools.

10 thoughts on “The President’s Speech

  1. I think reality has caused cynicism. The illusion of democracy is fading fast so Obama is not as idealistic as he once was. It must be hard to take the high road when deception is waiting at every turn.

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  2. Boo Hoo, the President swore. Oh my, what are we going to do?? (You want to hear swearing? Listen to the Nixon tapes. Behind closed doors not only did he swear like a sailor, his racist, anti-Semitic remarks are unbelievable). Wow, this is the best you have less than two weeks prior to the election? Rmoney, oops, I mean, Romney has no platform, oh, I mean, his platform changes almost by the hour these days, oh, I mean, Romney will say anything to get elected. Romney is a bullshitter. If President Obama said “liar,” the right noise machine would go just as crazy…. How refreshing to hear it said out loud, even by a president. If it walks like a duck…. I would be more concerned by phrases, such as, “forcible rape (Ryan),” “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen (Mourdock),” or “Syria is Iran’s ‘Route to the Sea’” (Romney). Now those are some quotes that give me the shivers.

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  3. President Obama little “faux pas” is getting press. Every time the right noise machine mentions it, it just repeats again and again that Romney is a liar! Brilliant, Mr. President, brilliant!

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    • I respectfully disagree with you, Jeff. I don’t think the fact that Richard Nixon swore like a longshoresman should excuse President Obama’s use of a vulgarity. Frankly, I can’t imagine President Obama would want to cite Nixon as precedent for anything, much less what constitutes appropriate presidential conduct!

      I don’t think its expecting too much to ask the President to refrain from using obscenity in his public statements. He can disagree vehemently with Mitt Romney, of course — I’m just asking that he do it in a way that doesn’t contribute to the further coarsening of our already too-coarse culture.

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  4. Bob, I like the refreshing, candidness. President Obama is human. The GOP is slinging it heavy, so insulting, so dog-whistle racist, so beyond the truth and have been doing it since January 20, 2009. Personally, I believe, Mr. Obama shows amazing restraint.

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  5. Indeed, my comparison to Nixon’s behind-door conversations is a false equivalence. Sometimes, I get excited and just start typing…. You know that, and thanks for your patience….

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    • I always appreciate your comments, Jeff, and the passionate way in which you present them. We may disagree with each other on things, but we can always be fair and give our friends and fellow citizens the benefit of the doubt.

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  6. Jeff
    I am a retired nurse ,formerly from Minerva. At almost 60, between nursing and world travel. I have seen some wonderful things and some quite tragic.
    I am retired,and as I was sitting contemplating the workings of the world an A.T.+T.( I thought!)How insignificant and trivial that the president used the word
    bullshitter. I was raised to believe that vulgarity is used out of ignorance for the proper word. Obama isn’t ignorant, but his editor must be.A poor choice of words isn’t national news worthy.
    Your old friend
    Cheryl Carman Scott

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