Rude, insulting language about Romney (“bullshitter”) from the president. Vulgar sexual innuendo, aimed at seducing young women to vote for him. The vice president asking a bereaved parent about the size of his murdered son’s testicles. It’s quite a spectacle. We’re a fractious people, and our politics have always been full of colorful language, but I can’t recall the current depth of vulgarity. The “politics of personal destruction” have gotten uglier. Does it mean anything? Should we try to understand it?
First, it bespeaks a coarsening of public language. No surprise there (Romney’s gentlemanly-ness is more surprising, in fact); for a long time our movies and television have abandoned the rules that banned certain words and phrases. Still, until recently, our political leaders have avoided such vulgarities, at least in their public rhetoric. No more, at least at the highest level of the current Democrat Party.
Second, it shows the shrinking vocabulary of our political life. There are plenty of usable and powerful synonyms of “buls*****r,” but a graduate of Harvard Law School didn’t have any of them on the tip of his tongue. Or perhaps he just preferred the vulgarity.