People are registering shock at Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's profanity in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine. But why should this shock anyone? In recent times, crudeness has virtually become a right of passage for Democratic presidential candidates (and presidents).
Senator Kerry, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, let his stiff hair down just a bit too far in response to a question about how his support for the resolution authorizing war against Iraq damaged his campaign. The question obviously brought out Kerry's bitterness over attacks he's sustained at the hands of rival candidate Howard Dean for casting that vote.
"I voted for what I thought was best for the country. Did I expect Howard Dean to go off to the left and say, 'I'm against everything?' Sure. Did I expect George Bush to f--- it up as badly as he did? I don't think anybody did."
Deborah Orin in the New York Post quoted Brookings Institution presidential scholar Stephen Hess as saying that to his recollection this was the first time a presidential candidate used X-rated language to attack another candidate publicly. "It's so unnecessary," said Hess. "In a way it's a kind of pandering to a group he sees as hip."
Precisely. Democrats must be hip today to appeal to the hipster vote. But somebody better tell the unhipster -- Senator Kerry -- that hip and fury don't mix, unless you're the King of Mean, Howard Dean.
Do you not remember President Clinton's appearance at an MTV forum on youth and violence in 1994 when he answered the question, "Mr. President, the world's dying to know: Is it boxers or briefs?" Clinton responded, "Mostly briefs."
And how about former Vice President Al Gore -- think about that: former Vice President -- performing on "Saturday Night Live" in 2002? At least one sketch in which Gore participated seemed to surprise CBSNews.com commentator Dick Myer.
Myer wrote, "The spectacle of this former vice president of the United States sitting in a hot tub with a perfect Joe Lieberman imitator on "SNL" and then telling Lesley Stahl that he was withdrawing from the presidential campaign felt like something we shouldn't be allowed to watch. It was too personal, too voyeuristic to watch a stranger acting out so close up."
Myer's further comments were more telling. "(Gore) should have treated himself with a little more respect…. But overall, you could see Weird Al's dignity whirlpooling down the drain. An endless, painful scene of Al and Tipper necking …"
One can only speculate as to why Albert Gore decided to stay hip even though he's no longer a candidate. Could it be that he still craves the approval of those who almost brought him to the dance -- but for the dastardly and decidedly "unhip" (at least as to the Bush vs. Gore decision) United States Supreme Court?
But why should we expect Al Gore to treat himself with respect? When former President Clinton could have oral sex in the Oval Office without risking the support of his party's base, we can be pretty sure that not much is sacred in that party anymore.
Indeed, the more disrespectful you are to traditional values, the more you prostitute yourself to the pop culture, the better you fare in the Democratic environment. That's why Howard Dean can not only proclaim his pro-choice credentials with political impunity. He can rhetorically elevate the depraved procedure of partial birth abortion to a sacred right.
That's why on the day President Bush signed the bill banning the practice Dean was able to say fearlessly, "Today marks a sad day for American women, who are seeing their reproductive freedoms restricted by a president acting in concert with a right-wing congress. As this controversy moves to the judicial system, we are reminded anew of the importance of electing a pro-choice president next year."
That's why Dean can say -- disingenuously -- that "This law will chill the practice of medicine and endanger the health of countless women."
And that's why hapless candidate General Wesley Clark can remind us of his military credentials 'til he's blue in the face and it won't do him any good with the Democratic Party, whose love affair with the military ended years ago.
We're definitely living in a divided America, with one half (and hopefully more) still clinging to those things almost every American once held sacred, and the remainder having "graduated" to become "progressives." The 2004 election will not only be a contest between the presidential candidates, but a referendum on America's values.