When we hear politicians using what is euphemistically known as unparliamentary language, it is usually an accident: an exclamation broadcast by a microphone they hadn’t noticed, for instance.
For one contestant for the US presidency, however, cursing has become a tactic. Former Democratic congressman Beto O’Rourke has been swearing out loud in full knowledge that cameras – and, therefore, voters and his mother – are watching.
His first notable outburst was early in August. Exasperated by inane questions about the relationship between President Trump’s rhetoric and a mass shooting in O’Rourke’s hometown of El Paso, Texas, O’Rourke sighed, “I mean, members of the press – what the fuck?”
This earned considerable traction, especially online, and any such spike will appeal to a candidate who is – as O’Rourke is – polling in low single digits. So it might not have been coincidental that when O’Rourke responded to another massacre in Texas last week with an expletive. He later repeated the sentiment on Twitter and T-shirts bearing the judiciously bowdlerized message “This is f*cked up” became available from O’Rourke’s website.
But tone will matter in 2020: Democrats would be ill advised to descend to the coarseness of their opponent. That said, there is little disputing O’Rourke’s subsequent reflection, “Profanity is not the f-bomb. What is profane is a 17-month-old baby being shot in the face.”