Those (expletive deleted) presidents

WAY BACK WHEN

Column on White House language elicits wide range of reactions

back story

July 29, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

Last week's column about presidential cussing brought an unusual amount of e-mail from readers who either agreed with the column or were annoyed by its subject matter.

Some were strictly reflective of the correspondent's political persuasion, while others raised that old complaint about the liberal bias of the press.

Of the sources that I contacted for the column, Russell Baker, former Sun reporter and noted columnist, author and Pulitzer Prize-winner, came in for the most drubbing.

"A reading of the body of Ronald Reagan's correspondence and speeches over the years demonstrates that he personally scripted the overwhelming majority of it," wrote Robert Loskot. "So, why don't you stop giving uncritical courtesy discounts when people like Russell Baker continue to utter spoonfuls of egregious horse --."

(The expletive was not completed by the writer.)

Willie Walker from Owing Mills wrote: "I take offense to one statement in your article, `profane in private like the rest of us.' Perhaps, you should have said, `some of us.'

"Many people do not use profane language under any circumstances. Some of us still realize that intelligent people have more effective ways of expressing themselves than through the use of profanity," Walker wrote. "To accept profane language [as] a standard is degrading to you and those who read your column."

Responding to President Bush's exchange with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, when he uttered the S-word that was picked up by an open microphone, Alex Pothos wrote: "`Nothing new,' eh? This IS the first Neanderthal president and commander in chief."

"I very much enjoyed your article on the salty language forthcoming from our Presidents," wrote retired Baltimore County District Judge John F. Fader II, an enthusiastic and well-read student of American history. "What I did not enjoy was the comments of your retired colleague [Baker]. His liberal politics is showing as well as his age."

Regarding President Bush's latest verbal gaffe, Fader added, "This particular President should be more careful as so many people are looking for something to criticize him for every minute of the day. Plus, he has gotten himself in trouble before for the same thing."

Douglas R. Price, a semiretired Chestertown businessman, who in his younger days was a member of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's White House staff, enjoys researching and writing about the presidents.

"As your article suggested, `Eisenhower cursed privately' on occasion, but only in light blue, not dark blue four letter words," he wrote in an e-mail.

"Anyone who made the mistake of using scatological or vulgar language in Ike's presence regretted it, as did anyone of his friends who made the mistake of telling an off-color story. Eisenhower had too much respect for the presidency," Price wrote.

"Ike could launch a more impressive verbal broadside using `Hell's Fire,' than most men could using a string of dark blue, four letter words," he wrote.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Price said that Eisenhower was certainly familiar with the rough language he encountered in his Army days.

"However, in reading his diaries when he was a young officer, he'd write `d - - ' rather than `damn' for emphasis," said Price.

Price also witnessed and learned firsthand what it was like when those around him annoyed Eisenhower.

"He didn't have to say anything. He could reprimand you severely with those cold blue steel eyes of his. They could penetrate right through you," he said.

Price recalls being the last one to get aboard Eisenhower's presidential plane because he had lingered to get a last-minute shot with a new movie camera.

As the plane's door slammed behind him, Price recalled being greeted with the nonverbal presidential stare that was coolly delivered and burned like a blowtorch as he made his way to his seat.

"I didn't ever do that again," he said.

Asked whether Franklin D. Roosevelt swore, Price said, "Reporting was different then. We didn't even know that he had a girlfriend, much less whether he swore."

Years ago, I recall reading a book about Merriman Smith, who was United Press International's senior White House correspondent, and began covering FDR in 1941.

Smith had written that no reporter dared mention Roosevelt's affair with longtime paramour Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, because to have done so would have resulted in their White House press credentials being lifted.

"There's another element here, and it may be generational when it comes to swearing," Price suggested.

"If your favorite team gets eliminated during the playoffs, do you yell, `Oh, fudge!'? Do you declare a 100-degree day as hot as `h-e-double hockey sticks'?" reported the Chicago Tribune this month. "If so, you're in the minority, according to some etiquette experts who say Americans are cursing more and using worse profanity than ever."

A recent "Rudeness in America, 2006" poll conducted by ABC's 20/20 came up with some stunning results.

"About 80 percent of Americans reported they witnessed others using obscenities or `bad language' in public. Of that surveyed group, 45 percent said they were bothered `a lot' by such language," according to the poll.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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