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.