R. Justin Shepherd | PART-TIME PUNDIT

How Bush Became the Curser in Chief
13.June.2007, 12.30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

My friend Derek, who blogs here, posted this. I just found it and thought it extremely amusing and intriguing. I’ve long wondered about “obscenity,” its virtues, the problems it causes, and many noble-minded persons’ overreactions against it. Anyway, here it is.

by James Poniewozik via TIME

Wash that mouth out, sir!President George W. Bush has not exactly been a hero to civil libertarians, what with the data mining, wiretapping and library snooping. But he may just have redeemed himself. Thanks in part to the efforts of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, it is now safe for Nicole Richie to drop the F bomb on broadcast TV.

On June 4, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of broadcasters in a challenge against Federal Communications Commission sanctions for indecent and profane language. Among the penalized quotes was Richie’s discussing her Simple Life experience on a live Fox awards show in 2003: “Have you ever tried to get cow s___ out of a Prada purse? It’s not so f___ing simple.”

The court argued, among other things, that the FCC’s enforcement was “arbitrary and capricious.” But the reason that stood out most was the court’s assessment of the national indecency climate: “In recent times, even the top leaders of our government have used variants of these expletives in a manner that no reasonable person would believe referenced ‘sexual or excretory organs or activities'”–the definition of indecency that the FCC and the courts have used. The decision cited Bush’s remark to British Prime Minister Tony Blair last summer, in front of a live mike, that Syria needed to “get Hizballah to stop doing this s___,” as well as Cheney’s hearty invitation to Senator Patrick Leahy, “Go f___ yourself.” (The court could have cited Bush’s remark, later reported by TIME, from March 2002 when war in Iraq was allegedly still a last resort: “F___ Saddam. We’re taking him out.”)

The fact that Bush sometimes curses may seem irrelevant, but the “community standard” is one of the most important factors in legally determining indecency. What’s good for Dubya, the court ruled, is good for the debutante. And while the ruling immediately applied to “fleeting” profanities, it could have broad implications for the FCC’s ability to limit naughty talk on broadcast TV and radio in general.

The ironies of this situation are richer and more fertile than the former contents of Richie’s purse. Bush ran in 2000 partly on the promise that he would restore dignity to the White House, appealing to social conservatives appalled over the Monica Lewinsky scandal and, broadly, the sexualization of American culture.

To a significant chunk of the Bush vote, the favors Bill Clinton received in the Oval Office were merely a symptom. The disease was the “coarsening of the culture”–the fact that, with the release of the Starr report, fellatio and the creative use of tobacco products were now the subject of the nightly news. And they were right–Lewinskygate did affect the media’s content standards–even if, to observers like me, frank, unembarrassed sex talk in public was a good thing. Leaders’ examples matter, sniffed candidate Bush. On June 4, the appeals court concurred.

This reasoning may seem unfair to Bush and Cheney. They were grown men using grown men’s language, as leaders have for generations. But the nebulous concept of morality is, after all, part of the social-issues glue Karl Rove has counted on to hold together the conservative base, in spite of policy foul-ups and exploding deficits. The Bush-era FCC dutifully indulged that base’s outrage. Now–well, let it never be said the President has no family-values legacy.

Maybe this situation will finally point out what a swindle it is to argue that electing one man can somehow change the moral character of a nation. Pop culture is king in America, and it laughs at the feeble efforts of mere politicians to change it. This Administration can hold as many prayer breakfasts and cover as much bare-breasted statuary as it wants, it has still presided over the society that produced Joe Millionaire, the Saw movies and 50 Cent.

Of course, the President and his party may try to exploit the inevitable outrage from this defeat. But actually there’s another way for them to make chicken salad out of something you are now allowed to say in prime time. They could call off the decency crusade. They could say it’s a good thing to protest idiotic crudity–on the radio, on TV or on the Senate floor–but to legislate against it is another matter. They could embrace the civil libertarians to whom they inadvertently handed a big win.

What do you have to lose, Mr. President? In recent years, you have disappointed your anti-illegal-immigration base, your fiscal-conservative base and now your family-values base. But to free-speechers, after this court ruling, you are the f___ing man.


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