Some might recall the incident a couple of months ago when Rick “Potty-Mouth” Santorum’s late presidential campaign was tainted by controversy over an off-color verbal ejaculation made to a New York Times reporter. When Jeff Zeleny asked the candidate to clarify his statement that Mitt Romney is the “worst Republican in the country” to run against Obama (in the exchange, Santorum added the qualifier “on the issue of Obamacare”), Little Ricky got in a tiff and proceeded to say that if he saw the remark referenced in a story, it would be “bullshit.”
I then found myself in the interesting and unenviable position of defending Rick Santorum. I wasn’t defending his actions, of course; the reporter was merely doing his job by asking the presidential candidate to clarify his statement regarding a rival candidate. My defense was of his choice in words, particularly since the real point of the incident (Santorum unfairly castigating a member of the press) was largely lost amid the furor over the word “bullshit.” If there was any bullshit going around, it was the public’s (and the media’s) hype over Santorum using the socially tabooed word and overlooking the real issue.
As I’ve made clear in the past, I find the whole preoccupation with “profanity” absurd. I was at a Tag Agency a few weeks ago and as I was waiting on the ladies behind the counter to finish my paperwork, I noticed a paper sign on the wall displaying O.S. §21906:
If any person shall utter or speak any obscene or lascivious language or word in any public place, or in the presence of females, or in the presence of children under ten (10) years of age, he shall be liable to a fine of not more than One Hundred Dollars ($100.00), or imprisonment for not more than thirty (30) days, or both.
I chuckled to myself. Several years ago, I was out running errands with my now-deceased step-grandfather and one of our stops was the Tag Agency. After the ladies behind the counter–who happened to be the same ones serving me–refused his request to renew a tag (I forget why exactly, but it had something to do with missing documentation), he flew into a tirade, as he was prone to do. I don’t recall if he actually said anything that would qualify as “obscene” or “lascivious,” but it’s entirely possible. Naturally, I was mortified and embarrassed at the time and as I stood at the counter all these years later, I couldn’t help but wonder if my Papaw was part of the reason the sign had been hung.
I didn’t dare say this to the ladies (they’re a bit intimidating) but that law would never stand up to a challenge on constitutional grounds, especially in light of courts in other states striking down similar laws. In fact, the Oklahoma State Code is full of statutes that are unconstitutional, such as prohibitions against (no joke) “blasphemy,” “adultery,” “Sabbath-breaking,” and so-called “crimes against nature.” If a cop tried to cite me for “obscene or lascivious language,” I’d first probably laugh at him and then, after getting the ticket, drop a line at the ACLU.
This brings me to the most recent ballyhoo over language. Some might recall that when President Obama’s health care reform bill was passed by Congress in 2010, he held a triumphant press conference at the White House on the day he signed the bill into law. Vice President Joseph Biden opened the event and as the president stepped up to the podium, Biden leaned into his ear and said with a glow, “This is a big fucking deal.” He didn’t realize, of course, that the microphone had picked up his remark, which has since been immortalized in the text slang BFD. Late last month when Obamacare was constitutionally validated by the Supreme Court, Biden paid homage to that seminal moment with this tweet:
Today’s decision is a really big – important – deal. Find out what it means for you: http://www.whitehouse.gov/healthreform –VP
Then, not long after, the Obama campaign launched a new t-shirt for sale at the Obama for America website, which reads on the front: “Health Reform Still a BFD.” You can purchase the tee for $30, something I’m sorely tempted to do. The Romney campaign wasn’t LOLing though; after Obama’s twitter sent out a link to the page to purchase the shirt, Romney’s spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, twesponded:
I just find the whole situation a humorous example of the frequent pettiness of American politics. Even so, while Romney struggles to lock in the support of prudish WASPs, the Obama campaign seems poised to dominate among BAMFs. I think it’s probably still too early to tell which way the MILF vote will swing in November. Stay tuned.