Vice President Joe Biden apparently thinks it is funny that an open microphone caught him using an inappropriate expletive when speaking with President Obama. This obviously unscripted moment came during the signing of the healthcare bill on Tuesday at the White House. Mr. Biden introduced the President and, leaning away from the cameras and microphone, was heard in a not too careful whisper to say, “This is a big f&^%ing deal.”
Of course, Mr. Obama kept on smiling, approached the microphone, and acted as if Biden had said nothing untoward. I can understand the President acting as if it were no big deal, considering the importance of that moment, but on Wednesday Mr. Biden proceeded to joke about the matter when speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic National Committee in Baltimore. He even went so far as to say that the President told him that his comment was “the best thing” about the ceremony on Tuesday. Oh really?
We cannot be sure if Mr. Obama said those words to Mr. Biden, but we can be certain that Mr. Biden used a curse word because the microphone picked it up. It is disconcerting to think that the second most powerful man in American doesn’t only believe that it is okay for him to curse on national television but that it is also funny.
I know what kind of language is used on the street. Growing up in New York City, I heard everything and learned what those colorful words meant at an early age. Despite having that knowledge, I did not think it was proper to use those words when I came in off those streets. I did not use them at home and certainly not in school or later on in life in a place of business. It became quite clear to me that curse words had their place, but it was also painfully apparent that some of the people using them liberally were not very aware of that fact.
We can be certain that Mr. Biden understands the nature of cursing, and he must also know that doing it on national television at the White House is not appropriate. What message is being sent to the general public, to people in other nations around the world, and more importantly to the children who may have heard him? Is it that cursing is okay? Will kids start thinking, “If he can speak that way to the President of the United States, can’t we speak that way to our parents and teachers?”
Some of you probably think I am making a big deal out of the Vice President’s faux pas, but I think it is rather important because this impropriety may not just be a slip of the lip. It could just be that Mr. Biden believes he is better than those he serves, that he has some kind of inalienable right to use street talk wherever he pleases, and that he can get away with whatever he wants.
Many of us can remember a similar arrogance coming from Dick Cheney, the former Vice President who was also older than President he served. Like Biden, Cheney provided embarrassing moments, including the famous hunting accident that almost cost someone his life. Mr. Bush seemed unable to deal with Mr. Cheney’s behavior, and it’s starting to seem like the same thing is happening with Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden.
What should Mr. Obama do? I do not think a public chiding is in anyone’s best interests, but Mr. Obama has to call Mr. Biden on this. As a father of two young daughters, he must tell Biden that this kind of language is not appropriate for public discourse, then Mr. Obama should close the Oval Office door and read Mr. Biden the riot act. Should he tell him to shape up or ship out? Yes, I think it is that serious and Mr. Obama better handle it now rather than later.
Cursing has an undeniable place in American culture, and we can hear these words being used around us more frequently. Formerly inappropriate words are snaking into network television shows. Maybe no one cares that words like “pissed,” “suck,” and “asshole” are being used and kids are hearing them, but it certainly bothers me. The parental controls on our television sets do nothing to stop this torrent of inappropriate language heading our way. We know what we can expect on cable TV, but it is becoming clear that broadcast television networks, in order to compete, are becoming more and more permissive in hopes of getting better ratings.
This means that we have to draw a line somewhere. We need to be more cognizant of how we talk around others. We need to show our children how to respect people, and the language we use is part of that. Most of us want to teach our children well, and I don’t think we have yet descended to a place where cursing is acceptable in all situations, and I hope that it never comes to that.
At this point in time it is still inappropriate for children to curse like drunken sailors on shore leave. Also, it is not okay for the Vice President of the United States to curse in public and to do so with impunity. He should hold himself up to a higher standard, realizing that what he says is not just a flippant use of the F-word but something that is going to be recorded and that makes it forever.
Maybe Mr. Biden isn’t thinking about his legacy and the history books, but I am certain that if he does that he wouldn’t want to be remembered as “the salty talking” Vice President under Mr. Obama. I believe he wants to be known as a man who made a difference in the lives of others, and he can start by being a good role model to all, especially to children who are impressionable. We should expect more from him, and now the question is can Mr. Biden expect more from himself?