Paul Greenberg

No doubt Americans were just as profane back then, but not our leaders, certainly not in public. It wasn't done. But there seem to be fewer and fewer things that are just not done in our oh-so-advanced era.

What does it matter how a presidential candidate talks? It's his policies that count! But are the two, words and actions, so easily separable? For it may not be clothes but language that maketh the man.

The spiffiest of rising young lobbyists, in their thousand-dollar suits and Armani ties, come across as cheap louts when they open their mouths and start spewing out profanities. At least they do to ladies and gentlemen, if there are any left of that vanishing breed. Maybe it's a time-bound concept. Remember when people used the phrase, "a gentleman of the old school?" Now it may be more an accusation than description.

David Axelrod, the president's spokesperson, once dismissed Mitt Romney's dated vocabulary and his politics in general by saying he "must watch 'Mad Men,' " the television series set in New York's advertising world of the 1960s, "and think it's the evening news."

But the 1960s might be a decade too advanced for Mr. Romney's language. To my ear, he sounds more like the 1950s -- "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Father Knows Best," rather than "Mad Men." If he were on "Mad Men," he'd surely be one of those difficult clients who wouldn't condone racy language. At least in public, and among people whose respect one sought.

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But I'm speaking as the product of a sheltered, not to say, puritanical childhood. We spoke Yiddish at home, and I never even realized there were dirty words in Yiddish till I went off to college and joined a Jewish fraternity. The only Yiddish spoken at the fraternity house were the vulgarisms, which now seem to punctuate every popular sit-com. It is not a step up.

The first time I heard a full vocabulary drenched in obscenities was from a drill sergeant at Fort Leonard Wood when I was an ROTC cadet. Talk about sheltered. I had no idea what the words meant, exactly, but only that I wasn't raised like that.

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In some respects, like language, why not return to the past? It would be progress.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.