I’m sure you’ve noticed. In recent weeks, some high-profile politicians have been using naughty words.
At one time, I would have said they were “caught” using bad words, because in olden days (say, 2016) it was almost unheard of for a member of Congress, or a President of the United States to go around cussing in public. No more. Now, the cameras are on, the microphones are open, and the obscenities are loud and clear.
Civility? That’s as outdated as Lawrence Welk’s bubble machine. Decorum? As extinct as the dodo bird.
Reviewing our esteemed presidents, it’s safe to say most of them cursed now and then. I mean, the job is a pressure cooker. There is no historical record of any particular swear word used by George Washington, but then again, cable news had not yet been invented.
President number 7, Tennessee’s own Andrew Jackson apparently had a rather loose tongue. According to the Washington Post, when he died in 1845, thousands gathered to pay a final tribute. Among those in attendance was his pet parrot, who had long listened to Jackson’s household rants.
A witness wrote, “While the crowd was gathering, the wicked parrot got excited and commenced swearing. The bird let loose perfect gusts of cuss words, and people were horrified by the bird’s lack of reverence. The bird refused to shut up and had to be carried away.”
Even Abe Lincoln was said to enjoy sharing an off-color joke. In his defense, there was a lot going on in the 1860s, so maybe he needed to let off a little steam.
Teddy Roosevelt was reportedly quite colorful, and one could imagine him yelling something other than “Bully!” when he stubbed his toe. However, there was no audiotape a hundred years ago, so we’ll never know for sure.
“Silent Cal” Coolidge surely didn’t swear on the job. By most accounts, he only said about thirteen words during his entire presidency.
In the relatively tame 1950s, fans of President Truman would routinely yell, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” Later in life, Truman said, “I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.” Truman was also widely quoted, questioning General Douglas MacArthur’s ancestry. He may have saved his best outburst for a music critic who had panned the singing voice of Margaret Truman, the president’s daughter. In a letter of complaint, Truman called the critic’s work, “poppycock.” When it came to salty 1950s slang, that word was right up there with “horsefeathers.” Truman would feel right at home in the 2019 political arena.
Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy are not remembered for their curse words. But one was an Army General, and the other was a sailor, so I’m guessing they were a bit bawdy at times.
As for Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon, let’s just say they were bad boys when it came to high-level cussing. Both were caught on tape on numerous occasions. LBJ let it be known that he could tell the difference between chicken salad and well, you know. Nixon’s once-secret tape recording system eventually became infamous, and the term “expletive deleted” became part of his legacy.
Ronald Reagan had at least one embarrassing moment when the microphone was turned on. Reporters were yelling out questions at a White House photo session, and he clearly referred to them by an unflattering name. Later, his press secretary solemnly told reporters they had misunderstood him. “He just said it’s sunny, and you’re rich,” he said. Right.
Since then, pretty much all the presidents have been caught or overheard saying inappropriate words, usually out of public earshot. The same could be said for some members of Congress, governors, and world leaders. They choose their words far more carefully when the microphone is “hot.”
Until recently, that is. One member of the U.S. House used the ultimate twelve-letter profanity when referring to President Trump. A few weeks later, the president accused his opponents of “going after me” with a familiar barnyard epithet. In both cases, the cameras were rolling. Don’t even get me started with singer/rapper R. Kelly.
How times have changed. Twenty years ago, when my sons were little, we would shield them from certain movies, to keep them from picking up bad words.
I’m glad I don’t have little ones now. “Did I just catch you watching the NEWS? You know better than that, young man. Go to your room!”
David Carroll, a Chattanooga news anchor, is the author of “Volunteer Bama Dawg,” a collection of his best stories. You may contact him at 900 Whitehall Road, Chattanooga, TN 37405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.