Insults have gone from meaningful and creative to ‘Dullsville’

U-Wire and U-Wire

What ever happened to old-fashioned criticism? You know, the kind that meant something, like when Teddy Roosevelt called Howard Taft a ‘fathead,’ or when John Adams spread campaign materials that insinuated Thomas Jefferson participated in animal cults and routinely sacrificed dogs on an alter in Monticello? These days it seems like most politicians are too concerned with their image and hopeful re-election to say anything but the generic, ‘Sen. So-and-so is a wiff-waffler!’ or ‘Rep. What’s-her-face supported George W. Bush on a few issues!’ Not even the infamously Scotch-Irish John ‘McNasty’ McCain could muster anything better than intimating that Barack Obama was the political analog to Paris Hilton. Obama listlessly responds that McCain is ‘erratic.’ Welcome to Dullsville. These dire times of political politeness (no-good censorship of creativity, if you ask me) are only livened up by politicians who have absolutely no mainstream appeal (e.g. Ross Perot and his Dan Quayle is ‘an empty suit that goes to funerals and plays golf’ comment) or the occasional lunatic, like former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. But alas, the Blagos of this world are few and far between. Instead we get stuck with boring drivel like the recent feud between state Rep. Mary Jo White, R-Venago, and the acting secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection, John Hanger, over Hanger’s nomination to continue his position as DEP secretary. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the two have been long-time enemies with a history of slander and accusations, and yet neither rose to the put-down challenge. According to the Senate committee chair Patrick Henderson (because White could not even give us a quote herself), ‘She won’t vote against him because of differences on public policy issues but because of his temperament and judgment in the past.’ What? Lady, if you’re going to make things personal, then at least give us a better quote than that. Where is the hyperbole? The angry rhetoric? What have politics come to? What happened to the politicians who had spines, when no comment was too insulting, no manner of abuse too low to descend to? Take 1956, when Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner gave his famous ‘Bleeding Kansas’ speech. This speech could have been a standard regurgitation of the issues on whether Kansas should have been admitted to the union as a slave state. It could have carried on about statistics and well-formulated arguments. It could have been really boring. But Sumner was a dream. A slanderous, smack-talking dream. In one speech alone he attacks not one, but two other senators, referring to Sen. Stephen Douglas as a ‘noise-some, squat and nameless animal … not a proper model for an American senator,’ and Sen. Andrew Butler as taking a ‘mistress … who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him … the harlot, Slavery.’ Sumner understood that proper insults attack not only a politician’s viewpoints, not only his intelligence and capacity to lead, not only his personal life, but also, and maybe most importantly, his physical appearance. He is truly an idol for all those who cherish the art of the insult. And though Sumner was later beaten with a cane for those comments, this really only proves my point more as he was able to serve as a martyr for his cause. Yet those days of debauchery are clearly over. Even the media, once a beacon of unrestrained slander, the institution that once allowed H.L. Mencken to write that ‘if [Franklin Roosevelt] became convinced tomorrow that coming out for cannibalism would get him the votes he surely needs, he would begin fattening a missionary in the White House backyard come Wednesday,’ or editorials that regularly referred to John Adams as ‘His Royal Rotundity’ has lost its punch. Now all you hear are boring, unoriginal insults, like RINO (Republican In Name Only), or ‘hippie tree-hugger,’ or feminazi. Not to mention all the shameless, shameless puns. For instance, Fox News asserted that President Obama is the ‘Prompter-in-Chief’ to poke fun at his frequent use of the teleprompter. Not only does this lack any originality, but it’s not even grammatically correct – technically Obama would be the ‘Promptee-in-Chief.’ I guess what I’m saying is I know that there are politicians who hate one another, except society has socialized them to believe that to be re-elected they must restrain themselves from their full abusive capabilities. This is actually probably true, which is a sad, sad thing.