Nov 252007
Authors: Ryan Nowell

Two weeks ago, John McCain attended a campaign stop in South Carolina, and during the Q and A session a supporter asked “How do we beat the b**ch?” referring, of course, to Hillary Clinton.

McCain covered his face as he chuckled with the crowd, offered to rephrase the question, affirmed his respect for Clinton, and proceeded to answer in the usual unsatisfying, campaign-talking-point way.

Frankly, I thought this moment highlighted some of McCain’s strengths. He was in good humor, but didn’t allow the conversation to devolve into an anti-Clinton rally. He got things back on track and played the moment off for what it was, an amusing footnote to the rest of the evening’s larger issues (the aforementioned campaign talking points).

The supporter, for what it’s worth, seemed more motivated by the bragging rights and congratulatory high-fives that would surely be awaiting her at the next bridge club meeting.

But apparently I’m the only one who thought as much.

In the days that followed, McCain was chewed out by his own party for failing to reprimand his supporter, with many leading Republicans insisting the he should’ve, at the very least, skipped the question.

Sen. Elizabeth Dole, by way of New York Post, said: “Oh, Jiminy I think I’d say ‘Next question.'” Marking the first time in almost sixty years the word “Jiminy” has been uttered without irony. Presumably, there were no blunt objects nearby to correct the senator’s verbal faux pas.

Others felt McCain should’ve rescinded the supporter’s juice box privileges and issued a five-minute time-out, while still others felt the statement was grounds for an automatic write-up and a call home to the supporter’s parents.

It’s rumored that the CSU Bookstore has pulled all of its McCain campaign contributions over the incident.

The Democrats, seeing this as a politically convenient time to be outraged, heaped on the condemnation, and soon the question went from hiccup to scandal, eventually getting slapped with the dreaded “-gate” suffix.

The Hillary camp itself hasn’t commented yet, pending the results of several focus groups and informal polls to determine what the best spontaneous response would be among the 18-to-34 demographic.

Perhaps discounting John McCain for spurious reasons is a necessary step in every presidential election he’s involved in.

I know it’s a great shock to the system that a Collegian staffer is taking the pro-vulgarity side of an issue. Maybe my faculties are too limited to understand why expecting an adult to reprimand another adult for their language is ground for a political scandal.

The argument is that McCain allowed the forum of political debate to be degraded by giving time to, and thereby validating, an inappropriate question. Doing so, measure by measure, erodes the process by which we chose our leaders and entrenches deeply partisan sentiments until elections become prolonged months of character assassination and juvenile mudslinging.

I think this argument mischaracterizes presidential elections as an important discussion about real issues, when actually they are prolonged months of character assassination and juvenile mudslinging.

Using vulgarities to describe opposing political forces isn’t a cause of partisanship, it’s a symptom, and having candidates make nice for the cameras doesn’t change the ardent divisiveness of their supporters.

While an air of civility is very necessary for the political process, here, it’s suggesting a level of appropriateness that’s first of all not representative of the ground level, where feverish brand loyalty is taking precedence over the valid and substantive, and second, is being conflated to discredit a candidate for reasons unrelated to the integrity of the election.

I’m not suggesting that politicians take a cue from George Carlin; I’m proposing that those aghast with what people say should be more concerned with why it’s being said. The profanity denotes an us against them mentality that is by no means peculiar to South Carolina, Republicans, Hillary-haters, or vulgarity enthusiasts.

Ryan Nowell is a junior English major. His column appears Mondays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to

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