May 17, 2024 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

Harris breaks the fuck barrier

It’s like she’s human, writes Stephen Robinson.

Courtesy of the AP, via screenshot.
Courtesy of the AP, via screenshot.

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Editor’s note: The following, which is for Editorial Board members only, first appeared in The Play Typer Guy, Stephen’s newsletter. –JS

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke this week at the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies’ Legislative Leadership Summit and offered some spirited advice for the young people present.

“We have to know that sometimes, people will open the door for you and leave it open, sometimes they won’t. And then you need to kick that fucking door down,” Harris said, as the audience went wild. Laughing she added, “Excuse my language.”

All the resulting press has focused on the vice president’s language. People were apparently confused: Was this a political speech or a David Mamet monologue?

This felt very 1990s when there was no cursing on primetime TV. If you had HBO, you could hear Samantha on Sex and the City say “fucking.” You could also see her fucking. Now, though, it seems every streaming series is like a Richard Pryor routine. The word just doesn’t seem that shocking anymore. It’s exactly what an almost 60-year-old vice president would say and was far less profane than shooting puppies.

Here’s a video clip of Harris’s remarks. Parental guidance is not suggested.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was asked by a reporter to comment on the vice president’s “language.”

“I’m not going to repeat that language,” he said. “I don’t use that [language] publicly.”

Jean-Pierre said it was “up to you” if he wanted to say “fuck” in public. The guy’s still living in the Hays Code. Harris only said “fucking” once (and not in the context of sex), so that’s good enough for a PG-13 rating. This wasn’t Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, which uses the word 569 times at a rate of 3.15 time per minute.

“Was this a one-off,” the very serious reporter asked, “or can we expect similar language from the vice president going forward?”

Why do so many men assume that everything a woman politician does is calculated? She’s a normal human being who probably uses the word “fuck” when excited or angry (it’s a very flexible word). It’s obvious to anyone with a brain that she slipped up and used the word in public. She even immediately apologized. Move on.

Kamala Harris has been the vice president for more than three years and has spoken publicly quite often. Her “fuck” average is nowhere near Wolf of Wall Street’s. The word is used more often in the “Don’t fuck with Mr. Zero” scene from When Harry Met Sally.

A YouTube commenter posted, “I am glad my parents are not still around to hear what comes out of the mouths of people leading this country. So disrespectful and unprofessional. Justifying using vulgarity to defend killing preborn humans would be on course for these people. Pretty sick.”

Of course, this person is probably voting for Donald Trump, who’s often used the word “fuck.”

Trump went full Tarantino during a 2011 speech to Republican donors in Las Vegas. CNN reported at the time:

“They (OPEC) want to go in and raise the price of oil because we have nobody in Washington that sits back and says you’re not going to raise that fucking price, you understand me?” he said.

And when it came to Iraq, Trump said, “we build a school, we build a road. They blow up the road. They blow up the school. We build another school, we build another road, they blow them up. We build again, in the meantime we can’t get a fucking school built in Brooklyn.”

Trump has said “fuck” multiple times in public, both before and after his presidency. Yet Jesse Watters at Fox News freaks out over the “foul-mouthed Momala.” However, Harris isn’t a man or white.

Past political potty mouths
During a 2012 Rolling Stone interview, President Barack Obama suggested Republican Mitt Romney was a “bullshitter.” He said, “You know, kids have good instincts. They look at the other guy and say, ‘Well, that’s a bullshitter, I can tell.’”

Republicans were, of course, very offended. Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer said people shouldn’t get “distracted” by the word, but instead “focus on the issue” — Romney’s overall untrustworthiness.

Rolling Stone also ran “A Brief History of Presidential Profanity” that documented examples of non-family hour language from political leaders.

Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes were filled with “expletive deleteds.” Nixon said in 1990 that “millions were shocked” by his words because “neither I nor most other presidents had ever used profanity in public.” He added, “I have heard other presidents use very earthy language in the Oval Office.” This might’ve included Lyndon B. Johnson and John F. Kennedy, who both dropped the f-bomb in conversation.

There were quite a few public profanities, but usually after an interview had ended or when a politician failed to notice the green light was still blinking. When Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in 2008’s South Carolina Democratic primary, Bill Clinton directly linked Obama to Jesse Jackson. After a contentious interview, Clinton was overheard saying, “I don’t think I should take any shit from anybody on that, do you?”

During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush described New York Times reporter Adam Clymer to his running mate Dick Cheney as “major-league asshole.” Four years later, Cheney would reportedly tell Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy to “go fuck [himself].” Cheney would later claim, “That’s sort of the best thing I ever did.”

It probably was.

When Jess McIntosh, vice president of communications for EMILY’s List, joined the 2016 Clinton campaign, there was a lot of faux rightwing outrage over McIntosh’s liberal use of “fuck” in her tweets. She was Mamet-level creative with the word. She tweeted in 2013 that she “ate the fuck out of a bagel.” Breitbart observed that McIntosh “used the word to describe her movement around Washington, DC, and other places in the country in 2013.” (She fucked around the city, etc.)

McIntosh wondered if anyone would make such a fuss about her tweets if she were a man. It’s a legitimate point, considering Bill Clinton was filmed saying “fuck” during a card game.

Current President Joe Biden publicly called the passage of the Affordable Care Act a “big fucking deal.” Biden said in 2010, “I’m embarrassed as hell by it, but apparently we’re selling t-shirts and making hundreds of thousands of bucks.” He shouldn’t have beat himself up. He was caught on a hot mic, but here’s how Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry explained his Iraq vote to Rolling Stone: “I voted for what I thought was best for the country. … Did I expect George Bush to fuck it up as badly as he did? I don’t think anybody did.”

Everyone protesting the Iraq War fucking knew.

Democratic Senate candidate Ruben Gallego did not seem embarrassed when he used “fuck” in a public tweet to Ted Cruz — a man so odious his official title is “fuck,” as in “Fuck Ted Cruz.”

“Fuck you @tedcruz,” Gallego wrote, “you care about a fetus, but you will let our children get slaughtered. Just get your ass to Cancun. You are worthless.”

When most people exclaim a variation of “fuck,” they are expressing anger, frustration or outright sexual aggression. That’s not what Harris did. She wasn’t talking about that “fucking” Trump but the “fucking” door that stands in the way of progress.

You might recall that in September 1976, Norman Mailer interviewed Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter for the New York Times. This is a particularly apt passage:

“The real answer is to get those of us who are running the government going right” You see, Carter went on to say, he was not looking to restore the family by telling people how to live; he did not wish to be president in order to judge them. “I don’t care,” he said in his quiet decent voice, as if the next words, while not wholly comfortable, had nonetheless to be said, “I don’t care if people say —,” and he actually said the famous four‐letter word that the Times has not printed in the 125 years of its publishing life.

Yes, the Times insisted on missing the point even back in 1976. The uncensored line carries a great deal of weight and reinforces the man Carter was and still is: “I don’t care if people say fuck.” If Carter doesn’t, neither should we.

Last week, Harris discussed defending reproductive rights with Abbott Elementary’s Sheryl Lee Ralph. No “fucks” were said or given. You should watch in full.

Stephen Robinson is the publisher of The Play Typer Guy, a newsletter and podcast about politics and the arts. Follow him @SER1897.

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