Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 20, 2005
POLITICS: Gary Ackerman Goes Blue

From a July 29 press release by my Congressman, Gary Ackerman:

Ackerman noted that "since last fall, I have tried again and again to work with FEMA on this rule so that 9/11 first responders and their families could start collecting the funds raised by the 9/11 Heroes Stamp. But at every step, FEMA - which does a spectacular job responding to disasters and emergencies throughout the country - refused to accept input or provide any feedback as to the content of the rule or when it would be published. I have enormous respect and admiration for what FEMA does in crises, which is why I'm so disappointed in this rule. Unfortunately, more than 45 months since the stamp was created, 38 months since the stamp went on sale, and more than six months since beginning work on the rule, what's been produced is, frankly, half-a__ed bureaucratic bulls__t. New York's best and bravest deserve far, far better than this."

(Emphasis added). I've omitted the language here, which is unfortunately not omitted from Ackerman's press release. Isn't this crossing a line that should not be crossed? I mean, it's one thing when a politician uses foul language in a private conversation and it somehow goes public, most famously in the case of Nixon's White House tapes but also, more recently memorably, in the case of George Bush in 2000 calling a New York Times reporter an unprintable name while talking to Dick Cheney in front of what turned out to be a live microphone. And it's another thing when that conversation is had in a setting where the politician should have known his conversation would be overheard and publicized, as with Cheney's use of an expletive to Patrick Leahy in a meeting on the Senate floor. And it's another thing still when a politician uses a bad word in a magazine interview that's expressly intended for publication (even if, as in the case of John Kerry's Rolling Stone interview, the magazine in question is one that uses such language freely), or in a radio interview (as in Ray Nagin's outburst during the hurricane).

But this is a new low, putting this sort of language in a press release. Now, while I refrain from using bad language on this blog, I'm certainly not innocent of doing so in my daily life, so I'm not getting squeamish here about the words themselves. My point is, simply, that it is yet another step to the coarsening of our culture to incorporate obscenties into the public vocabulary of our elected officials, one of the few areas of public discourse in which that is still taboo, and in which a measure of formality and civility is still expected to prevail. Recall Lileks' prediction, in August 2002:

Once vulgar words are commonplace in the papers and the television, there's no going back - and public life just gets cruder and cruder. I know it's a losing battle. Fifty years down the road a presidential candidate will say "My opponent says I'm soft on the military, and to him and all his advisors, I can honestly say: f**k you." He'll be celebrated in some corners for connecting with the genuine people, with those not bound by musty conventions. The authentic people! The ones who really f**kin' live!

It turned out to be one year and four months down the road, not 50. And Ackerman's press release is another step down that road. By 2008, will we have candidates who, like Atrios, call everyone who disagrees with them "f___ers" and leave it at that? Even if we don't, we are headed in that direction.

UPDATE: Jesse Taylor makes the opposite case, and in the process pretty well plays right into the popular caricature of the Angry Left as over-agitated, immature, reflexively oppositional and utterly lacking in perspective.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Politics 2005 | Comments (16) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

The NY Times just wrote an interesting article in the Science Time (appeared today, 9/20) on what and when various "obscene" words appeared. Such as golly and zounds.

Also recall when Daniel Patrick Moynhihan, a man far too smart and incisive to be wasted in the Senate, used the phrase, "defining deviancy down."

In this case, I can understand Ackerman's frustration. He is a member of the House of Representatives, yet cannot get a response from the Bush dominated FEMA, or probably any other organization. So when he sees the marginilization of an entire branch of governement, one supposed to be one of the three legs our nation stands on, be clipped by another, to the detriment of his bravest constitutents, he gets angry. No there is nothing wrong with Ackerman's outburst, but there is something amiss when the cause of such an outburst continues.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 20, 2005 10:36 AM

UPDATE: Jesse Taylor makes the opposite case, and in the process pretty well plays right into the popular caricature of the Angry Left as over-agitated, immature, reflexively oppositional and utterly lacking in perspective.

Just as your inane post and update, Crank, play right into the popular caricature of the Repressed Right as pecksniffian, self-righteous, reflexively orthodox, and utterly lacking in perspective.

Also, you guys have a stick up your ass.

Posted by: edddie at September 20, 2005 11:46 AM

This nonsense about the "angry left" which supposedly lacks perspective is belied by what is really happening on the right wing. Listen to or watch the following conservative commentators who each make outrageous statements on a regular basis:

Rush Limbaugh
Bill O'Reilly
Ann Coulter
Michael Savage
Glen Beck
Sean Hannity

These are the most popular commentators in America. None of these commentators has an ounce of class. You mention lack of perspective. All the above commentators do is defend society's most powerful entities (the presidency, corporate america, insurance companies, the military) and use airtime almost solely to air grievances about the so-called left. By way of example, O'Reilly mostly talks about himself and takes pot-shots at isolated figures on what he calls "the hard left" and otherwise makes outrageous comments. Rush jumped off the deep end a long time ago. Coulter and Savage sell zillions of books and take to the airwaves with the most vile comments imaginable. I know of no comparable speakers on the left.

Posted by: Steve at September 20, 2005 1:39 PM

Steve and Eddie are right; I'd say the "Right" has a lot more angry old white men railing on in offensive ways than the left ever did.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to point out that f***ing jacka**es of the Corporate Defense and Prudish Morality League deserve as much nasty language directed towards them as possible.

[language deleted by moderator]

Posted by: adwred at September 20, 2005 2:05 PM

Amazing how, whenever you get into a specific discussion about left-wing blogs and Democratic politicians, the knee-jerk response is always, "Coulter, Limbaugh, O'Reilly". (I confess I've never heard of Glenn Beck). Never fails. Now, I won't defend Coulter, who's nuts, Savage, who as far as I can tell is more a Howard Stern-style shock jock than a guy with comprehensible political ideas, or O'Reilly, who's as much a Pat Buchanan-style populist as he is any sort of conservative. Still, on the specific point regarding profanity, the fact that these folks work in broadcast means that they still have to accept some restraints as far as language.

Posted by: The Crank at September 20, 2005 2:14 PM

Maybe he was coached in order to get more TV coverage.

Profanity: the linguistic crutch of the illiterate m*****f****r.

Posted by: capitano at September 20, 2005 2:28 PM

The reason why we always point to Rush, Coulter and O'Reilly is because they are the most popular commentators in the country. Each has authored best-sellers and are always on radio/TV. There is no one on the so-called left as popular as these, and others, who all provide simplistic and childish analysis. In limiting your objection to profanity, well, that's like criticizing only players who hit into lots of double plays, overlooking pitchers who give up too many grand slammers.

Posted by: Steve at September 20, 2005 3:13 PM

I really have to disagree with the O'Reilly comment. Rush is a very bright man with an agenda. One I don't agree with, but he takes the truth, and tends to stretch it until it screams for mercy. O'Reilly abandoned truth a long time ago.

I recall a comment Al Franken made, when someone wanted to (take a number buddy!) sue O'Reilly for lible. The problem was a journalist must show a reckless disregard for the truth "knowingly." Seems our pal Bill lies so frequently, his "non-knowingness" is an affirmative defense. BTW, Franken can be funny, and can stretch things as much as anyone, but he was telling the truth.

A last note: maybe broadcasters need to worry about some floating sacred v profane language concept (time was you couldn't broadcast the words God and hell), although I think the American public could put up with some questionable language better than have Congress legislate it; the orignal comment was that Congressman Gary Ackerman said it. Still, he said it due to frustration over his constituents getting, uh, you know; Cheney said it to abuse someone who dared to disagree with him.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at September 20, 2005 3:15 PM

Andrew Dice Clay humor is one thing.
Someone incapable of presenting an argument in an adult manner who then uses the shield of the internet to present a sophomoric representation of the present-day adolescent mind - things that would never be said on a face-to-face basis, is another. And, oh, it's the fault of the conservatives (everything is). Film at 11 (on Usenet).

People are actually teaching teenagers that such mannerisms result in being taken seriously?

Posted by: RW at September 20, 2005 8:40 PM

Wow! You touched a raw nerve!

I guess I see a difference between someone whose job it is to provoke outrage and a congressman. (And even then, Coulter, et al., don't throw around the BS word in their official publications.) An educated person should have the ability to use words to express anger and frustration without using street language.

Posted by: Attila (Pillage Idiot) at September 21, 2005 5:38 AM

"Should" being the operative word. Then again, I've seen supposedly-educated people blame Bush for their property tax increases.

That wasn't a joke.

Posted by: RW at September 21, 2005 5:53 AM

This is just another strawman post in a long series of Crank posts.

So you don't like bad language? Okay, fine, you are a prude or an upstanding citizen of fine maturity, whatever. Ackerman and his staff made a poor choice in the press release, and this may be an example of coarsening language.

But then it is somehow linked to the dubious claim of a "popular caricature of the Angry Left?" And your evidence is one privately owned blog posting?

But sorry, of course, the "Right" should always have the privelege to define the debate and draw whatever conclusions fit the pre-supposed argument based on any single example you might enjoy pointing to or making up.

Posted by: adwred at September 21, 2005 10:05 AM

adwred,
By pointing to specific examples it belies the very definition of a "strawman". And, sorry, but there is a template being set for a specific segement of the left: the angry left.

It doesn't mean all Dems, or lefties, but a loud portion. That is, unless you think that the primary media organs of the left - again, not the DNC, but the left - (moveon.org, Soros, PFAW, various editorial boards) aren't angry. If that's the case, then I'd ask you if you thought the right was "angry" during the late '90s and how it correlated with the MSM's designation of the Republican victories in '94 as reminiscent of the "angry white male".

Posted by: RW at September 21, 2005 12:03 PM

RW

This is a definition of "a straw man" argument: Present someone who defends a position poorly as the defender, refute their arguments, and pretend that every argument for that position has been refuted -- or present a misrepresentation of the opponent's position, refute it, and pretend that the opponent's actual position has been refuted... Crank does it all the time, I suppose you learn that in law school.

Anyway RW, I apologize for being dense but I am not sure what your question is. Let me break it down -- Are primary organs of the Left "angry"? I guess but they should be; the Left is pretty upset about the current administration's policies. Was the Right angry during the late 90's? Yes, the right generally is, as anger is inherent in racist, sexist, classist positions.

Of course I am not claiming all white conservatives are blustery fools living in the suburbs with no connection to the reality of the majority of America, just that that's the popular caricature.

Posted by: adwred at September 21, 2005 6:05 PM

Dictionary.com: n 1: a person used as a cover for some questionable activity [syn: front man, front, figurehead, nominal head, straw man] 2: a weak or sham argument set up to be easily refuted [syn: straw man] 3: an effigy in the shape of a man to frighten birds away from seeds [syn: scarecrow, straw man, bird-scarer, scarer]

The common internet discussion usage pertains to #2. If your position that Pandagon's argument is weak, then we agree. I read it to say "sham", which examples themselves refute. Is it your position that the agument is weak, since it most assuredly exists?

" Yes, the right generally is, as anger is inherent in racist, sexist, classist positions."

I hope your expectations did not include the notion of ever being taken seriously. Are you guys even aware that such nonsense adds to the stigmatization of your cause? Are you aware that you're a distinct minority?

I ask again, is that what they're teaching teenagers nowadays?

Posted by: RW at September 21, 2005 6:21 PM

We're getting confused here. The post was about Ackerman and profanity, not about the Left or incivility generally. I added a relevant link to Jesse Taylor - a prominent lefty blogger who wrote what purported to be a defense of cursing in political argument - and simply noted that, in the process, he was playing into every bad stereotype about lefty bloggers of his ilk, like Kos and Atrios and Oliver Willis. Where's the strawman?

Posted by: The Crank at September 21, 2005 6:30 PM
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