Can We Rise Above the Muck?


So much has been written since last week’s revelation that an unnamed Obama administration official used a barnyard epithet to impugn the reputation and political ability of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that I will not add my own denunciation — however justified it might be — to the thousands of words already out there condemning the White House for what is at best a gross breach of diplomatic etiquette.

Instead, it’s worth noting that such salty and destructive language is apparently run of the mill in the current administration, and may well have been in those of presidents past.

Just six days after the appearance of Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic came another in Politico that examined the perilous position occupied by the president, who, by most accounts, has lost control of both his domestic and foreign policy agendas as well as a firm grip on the shaping of his political legacy. In it, a senior administration official describes Obama’s visceral disgust of the lead-up to Tuesday’s midterm elections by dropping an S-bomb: “There have been $2 billion in ads s—-ing on the president and no one to defend him,” the official says.

In the same article, a top presidential aide drops another, telling reporters Glenn Thrush and Carrie Budoff Brown that the administration knows “we’re in for a s—- storm if we lose the Senate.”

A colleague of mine described the occupants of the West Wing as puerile, that their antics and statements have reached a new low in American political life. But their language is unfortunately nothing new. In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney famously dropped an F-bomb in telling off Sen. Patrick Leahy. And Obama’s aides wouldn’t be the first to be juvenile: Veterans of the Clinton White House were implicated in removing the Ws from West Wing computers before the administration of President George W. Bush took office in 2001.

No, the use of vulgarity by government officials is quite arguably so regular as to not be noticed, and no less than the president himself — President Nixon recorded himself doing just as much — has spewed profanities from the Oval Office. What is new, however, is that such comments are now regularly quoted, that the baser forms of language arguably are the new parlance of political speech.

I hope that I’m wrong.

By the time you read this week’s JT, voters throughout the nation will have decided who shall occupy their state’s legislature and governor’s mansion and who will represent them in both houses of Congress. In the days leading up to Election Day, many expressed to reporters their disgust with a phenomenon that President Clinton described as “the politics of personal destruction.”

What historically happens after all the ballots are counted is that politicians enter their offices determined to rise above the muck that characterized their campaigns. Should such a return to high-minded debate not occur, they and their aides will have demeaned not only the institution of their offices, they will have demeaned what it means to lead a people as great as those of the United States.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here