There's a long history of describing an individual that you find unpleasant by using some variation on the great catalog of terms that are used to denote the male genitalia. As you may have heard, MSNBC commenter, Time Magazine editor and all-around MSM Bigfoot Mark Halperin got himself in some trouble for using one of these terms today in describing the Leader of the Free World. Politico offers a synopsis:
MSNBC senior political analyst Mark Halperin was suspended on Thursday by the cable network after he called President Obama “a dick” on a popular morning show and then quickly apologized.While that's a pungent way of describing the matter, it brought on some truly kick-ass Victorian fainting couch posturing and effusive apologetics:
“I thought he was a kind of a dick yesterday,” Halperin, who also is an editor at large for Time, said on “Morning Joe,” referring to the president’s conduct during his press conference.
A couple of hours later, MSNBC issued a statement, saying, “Mark Halperin’s comments this morning were completely inappropriate and unacceptable. We apologize to the president, the White House and all of our viewers. We strive for a high level of discourse, and comments like these have no place on our air. Therefore, Mark will be suspended indefinitely from his role as an analyst.”Now that's some impressive self-abasement. I don't think Nikolai Bukharin could have done any better, although I give Halperin credit for leaving Hegel out of it.
The cable outlet also put out a statement from Halperin at the same time, saying, “I completely agree with everything in MSNBC’s statement about my remark. I believe that the step they are taking in response is totally appropriate. Again, I want to offer a heartfelt and profound apology to the president, to my MSNBC colleagues and to the viewers. My remark was unacceptable, and I deeply regret it."
Time issued a statement later Thursday, calling Halperin’s comments “inappropriate and in no way reflective of Time’s views.”
Now, I'm the first to stipulate that calling someone a dick isn't very nice. As it happens, I used a variation of such language myself this morning, right here on this blog. I wrote:
Man, that Walker is a shmuck.
Shmuck is a Yiddish term that generally means either "a penis" or "an unpleasant person." It's one of several similar words of Germanic origin that work quite well for such descriptions, a list that includes such pungent terms as "putz," "schmeckel" or "schwanz." It's my understanding that it's worse to call someone a "putz" than a "shmuck," while calling someone a "schmeckel" is perhaps somewhere in between. Growing up in Wisconsin, I'd hear the term "schwanz" fairly often, especially among people who were less removed from the old country.
So how should we approach the use of such words? I'll admit that my standard tends to be that I don't use those words, unless I do, and usually I use such words when I'm engaging in mockery. For example, I don't think Scott Walker is a shmuck at all. In fact, I admire much of what he's done, which has taken both courage and resolve, especially in not rising to the baiting of those on the Left who have described him in all manner of terms. I'm guessing this discussion of my, ahem, diction is hardly news to anyone who reads this feature regularly.
Vulgarity is not something we should aspire to, of course, but at the same time words exist and are used for specific reasons. And in the case of Mr. Halperin, I think he chose le mot juste. President Obama's performance at his Wednesday press conference was risible at best and disgraceful most of the time. He engaged in some astonishing demagoguery, especially in the context of his own behavior. Consider this comment:
Look, I think that what we've seen in negotiations here in Washington is a lot of people say a lot of things to satisfy their base or to get on cable news, but that hopefully, leaders at a certain point rise to the occasion and they do the right thing for the American people. And that's what I expect to happen this time. Call me naïve, but my expectation is that leaders are going to lead.Or this comment:
So the question is, if everybody else is willing to take on their sacred cows and do tough things in order to achieve the goal of real deficit reduction, then I think it would be hard for the Republicans to stand there and say that the tax break for corporate jets is sufficiently important that we're not willing to come to the table and get a deal done.
Just a guess -- eliminating a tax break on corporate jets wouldn't mean much in terms of eliminating trillion dollar deficits. But that's not the problem. Today Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republicans in the Senate offered to meet with the President. The response?
White House press secretary Jay Carney, while not directly saying the invitation had been rejected, said Obama did not need to hear Republicans tell him what they would not support.I think we can safely assume that Jay Carney, as the president's press secretary, speaks for the president. So, would you describe that response, in the context of Obama's hectoring of Republicans a day previous, as the handiwork of a statesman? Or of a
That, Carney said, was "not a conversation worth having."