Unless you’ve been hiding out in a spider hole in Tikrit for the last couple of days, chances are that the backlash from Kanye West’s MTV Video Music Awards meltdown has found a cozy home in your inner ear with no departure date on the horizon. Saturating the airwaves with the voracity of a freshly awoken infant, the firestorm caused by Kanye’s absurdity has threatened to shake the nation to its very core — or so it seems.
Throwing economic woes, health care reform criticisms and fantasy football deficiencies to the wind, the acceptance speech from hell has made a ridiculous ascent to the top of the national agenda. From teachers to classmates to your friendly neighborhood transient, it seems that nearly everyone has an opinion on the matter — everyone, including President Barack Obama.
As reported via Twitter by the intrepid journalists over at ABC News, the president of the United States called the rapper a “jackass” for hijacking Taylor Swift’s once-in-a-lifetime moment at MTV’s award ceremony. The comment was made during a casual conversation that took place while the news crew was setting up for a hard-hitting interview.
After realizing what he had said, the president was quick to implore those in the room to keep the comments private.
With news of the president’s quote spreading throughout the sphere of information, suddenly people who wouldn’t know the difference between a VMA and a VCR were chiming in about how inappropriate it was for Obama to have made such a profane statement.
Ironically, President Obama’s comments chastising West actually helped to deflect some of the collective vitriol away from the scorned rapper. Nevermind the fact that the president was under the impression that his comment would be counted as off the record. This is not an article about shoddy journalistic morals.
As explicitly listed in Article II, Section 1 of the US Constitution, a person is only eligible to assume the Oval Office if he or she is a natural-born citizen of the United States, at least 35 years old at the time of his or her presidency and a resident in the country or its territories for at least 14 years.
Check, check, check.
Outside of that, there is nothing that stipulates that the president of the United States should have the temperament of a Sunday school teacher.
So why the fuss?
If in fact it turns out that the commander in chief has the mouth of a sailor, it’s not the worst thing that could happen. We still put full support behind these purported “potty-mouthed” defenders of freedom from which the idiom is derived; it seems rather silly that we should think that this casual use of profanity would impair the president’s ability to do his job or make him any less of an upstanding citizen.
This isn’t a freedom of speech issue, either. Clearly, if that were the case, Serena Williams, Sen. Joe Wilson and West would all be on the next bus to San Quentin.
Everyone is entitled to his own opinion and can voice it at whatever time they find themselves compelled to do so. Barring treason, conspiring statements, slander and, say, threats to slam tennis balls down the throat of a line judge, the consequences that such pistol-mouthed orators face are limited to disdain from peers and the court of public opinion, shameful regret and some pithy monetary fine. These pale in comparison to the harsher sentences handed down to brazenly outspoken individuals throughout history.
Then what is this an issue about?
Obama’s arduous job requires 24/7 attention and dedication. But he is also human.
In the interest of dispelling any notion of a double standard, perhaps its fair that “jackass” has come to reach a level of notoriety close to that of “you lie” in the past week. But in comparing context and tone, there is a clear difference. One is a story because it disrupted a nationally broadcast presidential address. The other is a story just because the president became an inadvertent national broadcast.
The bottom line is that there is a time and place for everything. Obama’s speeches are so carefully crafted that it would be absurd to even think that there could be room for an F-bomb, or that the commander in chief is liable to bust into a profanity-laced tirade in tense talks with world leaders.
But in the fractions of the year in which President Obama can afford to let his guard down a little bit, it shouldn’t be cause for talk of the apocalypse if he happens to let a couple of swear words into normal conversation.
Wait. Before you start to come back with a rebuttal, I’m really happy for you, and I’m gonna let you finish, but Obama had one of the most harmless passing comments turned pointless national stories of all time. Of all time!
Soojin Yoon is a junior majoring in public relations. His column, “Boy Meets Word,” runs Thursdays.