I don’t think that the president of the United States says something to a large morning television audience that hasn’t been plotted in advance.
So when President Obama used a mild anatomical profanity before an audience that includes children in footsie pajamas slurping Cheerios to describe how he wants to fix responsibility for the Gulf oil spill, I assume it was well-rehearsed: an epithet urged on him by advisers.
"No, no, Mr. President. Saying ‘backside’ will make you sound wimpy. Saying 'derriere' makes you sound French. Keep it short and simple. We’ll leak it that the word is in the Bible."
It makes you wonder how Winston Churchill rallied millions during World War II just by promising blood, tears, toil and sweat -- not kicking Nazi backside.
I know a few people who have played basketball with President Obama. They say that he can drive, he can shoot, and he can swear.
But I didn’t get the impression that President Obama was at ease uttering this epithet. I’m sure he’s furious about the spill, and feels sorrow for those who have lost their lives, and those who will suffer losses to their way of life.
I’m just sorry that a man as elegant in speech as President Obama seems to think that he has to use locker room talk to impress some people.
It wasn’t an epithet that would make Joe Biden or Dick Cheney blush. Much less Rod Blagojevich.
But they shot off profanities when they didn’t know a microphone was open. President Obama knew that he was speaking directly to millions. His epithet was just about as spontaneous as a telephone solicitation.
The best advice I ever got about profanity was from my father. He had worked in nightclubs with Lenny Bruce and thought he was funny. But he didn’t find Bruce's obscenities very funny, and wondered why a lot of people who considered themselves smart and cool did. He thought that most profanities were pretty imprecise as language. They offended without informing and that smart people could usually find sharper, better words to say what they mean.
I suppose that President Obama was trying to look righteously indignant for the public. But there is a practical drawback to bragging about kicking backside. Some of the backsides that polls say Americans may most want the president to kick may belong to people he needs to quell and clean up the oil spill.
Many Americans who may not share President Obama’s political ideas still appreciate his composure. His intelligence and imperturbability may be more important now than any theatrical display of profanity.
There are other, even stronger words from the Bible, like hellfire and damnation, to describe this spill and the misery that it threatens.