November 2 2012

The Politics of Vulgarity: What Does It Mean?

Charlotte Hays

When President Obama and others on the left launched a civility crusade, a lot of us instantly smelled a rat: civility for the left was just a codeword. It meant (to put it crudely): Shut up, conservatives.

If you want to see the Obama campaign’s idea of civility, you need look no further than Vice President Joe Biden’s clownish performance during the vice presidential debate. But it's not just clownishness that should alarm us. This campaign and its surrogates have engaged in vulgarity to an unprecedented degree.

My sister and I were actually saying the other day that we were glad our mother—who was nothing like Michael Moore’s Nasty Granny—didn’t live to see the presidential campaign just ending. She once ran out of a room when somebody employed a crude term. It is harder to run out of your country because of potty mouthed politicians and celebrities. But is anybody other that conservative-leaning fuddy-duddies dismayed by this?

Mona Charen nails it:

Barack Obama isn't the first candidate to go ugly in search of votes -- but he may well be the first whose reputation for high-mindedness seems not to have been the least bit dented by his bottom-feeding. Both he and his acolytes on the left have dragged our public life down to the vulgar level to which they've already dragged popular culture. …

Mr. Obama was always a down-the-line leftist, but when he ran for president the first time, he did so with dignity and even a touch of elegance. That style may have led some voters to overlook the reactionary leftist policies that the "cool" candidate was peddling.

Columnist Suzanne Fields posits that high-minded early feminists would not care for the language of 2012’s presidential campaign:

More than a century and a half ago, when early suffragettes fought to win the vote, they campaigned for equality as a source of independence and dignity, a means for a woman to stand equally with a man. The vote would uphold a woman's capacity to be fully human under the law, and from the law the culture would change. The early feminists assumed a moral superiority over men, which is why so many were active in the temperance movement. ...

Educated women now appropriate the word "slut" like gays have embraced "queer," taking it with pride of ownership. Hookups, as in sexual quickies, are pushed as "gender" neutral in male-female relationships. The idea of female superiority of women, able to civilize the brutish instincts of men, is quaint, indeed.

The nineteenth century feminist would be shocked with the television commercial for President Obama characterizing a young woman's first vote for the president as the equivalent of giving up her virginity. For those who were too busy watching Hurricane Sandy tear up the Atlantic coast, the star of HBO's hit sitcom "Girls" looks coquettishly into the camera, her hip tattoo clearly visible, and says: "The first time shouldn't be with just anybody. You want to do it with a great guy. Someone who really cares about and understands women."

That guy, she goes on to say with an innocent's leer, is Barack Obama. By now she's clearly talking about a young girl's first vote and the president's promise of free condoms.

I would like to be bipartisan in this criticism. But there simply hasn’t been anything vulgar emanating from the campaign of the “gosh” guy. That is in part because of the kind of boy scout Mitt Romney is and perhaps also in part because GOP leaders tend to be less hip about the pop culture--e.g., Romney will very likely never be invited to a party given by Beyonce and Jay Z.

I don’t want to go all-Arnold-Toynbee on you, but this kind of vulgarization of a culture is serious. It is an indicator that our society is falling apart.

No matter which candidate wins next week, we really need to start talking about this.

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