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Jewish World Review August 16, 1999 /4 Elul, 5759

Suzanne Fields

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Dubyah and that
'language' thing -- UH, OH. George W. uses four-letter words. That offends a lot of people.

He probably inherited a gene from his parents. Barbara called Geraldine Ferraro "something that rhymes with witch.'' Her husband described his performance in a debate with Ms. Ferraro,as kicking something that rhymes with "crass.''

Columnist George Will, who once described George Sr. as a lap dog, is now offended by George W., who has a louder bark with a different bite. He suggests that in using four-letter language in an interview with Tucker Carlson for Talk magazine, the candidate was "showing off'' or "daring to be naughty'' and "proving his independence ... from standards of public taste.''

What it shows is that George W. is square in the mainstream of popular taste. In modern America, bishops talk like running backs.

That's exactly why cultural conservatives are unhappy with George W. If Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan used raunchy language, they didn't do it around men they didn't know well. Richard Nixon peppered his conversations with obscenities, as the tapes famously showed, but he was buttoned-up in public and with strangers.

Before Andrew Jackson was elected president, a friend described him as a "most roaring, rollicking, game-cocking, horse-racing, mischievous fellow.'' A powerful woman in the Democratic Party once asked Bess Truman to get her husband to clean up his language. He'd described another politician's policy as horse manure. Said Bess: "You don't know how many years it took me to tone it down to that.''

So what should we think of George W.?

Well, we don't have to admire his language, but we shouldn't get carried away on the wings of holier-than-thou criticism. At least the language is consistent with his rough-and-tumble Texas manner. No hypocrite here. He got caught in the "gotcha'' game, so he's likely to restrain his language from here on -- but the rest of us ought to loosen up a little, too.

The candidate has not, after all, been accused of rape, draft-dodging or lying under oath. We could also get off his back about whether he's snorted coke. He didn't pull a Clinton and say he didn't inhale. George W. admits to being a bad boy in his youth, but he's reformed. If he's lying about being faithful to his wife for 21 years, that's something else that rhymes with "crass,'' but so far no accusers have stepped out from the shadows.

Bill Clinton's legacy may come down to requiring presidential candidates to be penitent confessors, and the public to play forgiving priest. If that's so, the only kind of man we'll be able to nominate is an over-the-hill castrato. Is this a double standard? No, a plea for a little discrimination of the right kind.

In a recent column, I referred to a mechanical dog that could "pee'' on the carpet. A reader wrote to say how disappointed he was that I didn't use another word, like "urinate'' or "relieve himself.'' My "vulgarism'' played into "the hands of those intent on destroying all moral and familial structures in this country,'' breaking down "whatever middle-class standards and reticences still left.''

Maybe columnists should restrict themselves to saying "No. 1'' or "No. 2,'' but we ought to cut real people a little slack. Content is important, too.

Some of the four-letter words sprinkled through Tucker Carlson's interview are of a piece with earthy Texas parlor talk. They're words that make a point, embedded in an observation that is part of the candidate's good ol' boy give-and-take. What's impressive about the texture of the interview is the easygoing rapport between interviewer and interviewee.

It won't always work to the candidate's benefit. George W. sometimes carries his husky humor to a fault -- joking when he should be serious -- as when he mocked Karla Faye Tucker, a double-murderer put to death in Texas last year. But his bluntness was on behalf of outrage for the victims, rather than sentimentality for the murderer. The tone nevertheless didn't serve the candidate well. (Callousness is a byproduct of capital punishment.)

The conventional wisdom is that we're quibbling over George W.'s language because he has offered little else so far. His long lead in the polls gives him the confidence to stall, and his critics and campaign opponents must engage in nitpicking.

Still, his lack of equivocation at the end of the Clinton years is disarmingly fresh. George W. is a robust Republican, a description we all thought was an oxymoron.


08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate