Fay Vincent: We Need Less “Joe,” More “Mr. President”

From a Wall Street Journal commentary by Fay Vincent headlined “Less ‘Joe,’ More ‘Mr.President'”:

There he was, on the hurricane-ravaged streets of Fort Myers Beach, Fla., the president of the United States, saying: No one effs with a Biden. I don’t use quotation marks because he used an unprintable word my mother taught me is “vulgar.”

In ancient Rome, where formal Latin was spoken only by the educated class and written by the likes of Cicero, the street language was called the “vulgate” because it was the common tongue.

Many of us use Mr. Biden’s word. Such use is not new. Think of the Cole Porter 1934 song, “Anything Goes”: “Good authors too, who once knew better words / Now only use four-letter words / Writing prose / Anything goes.”

Vulgarity seems to be a partner with anger, stress or alcohol. Language can be location-debased, so locker rooms and athletic fields, where defeat lurks, are sites for the vulgar outburst that signals frustration and bitterness. Winners can afford to be generous in tone and careful in speech. Losers swear as the cameras look away.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking woman in our government, has shown impatience, albeit in a mild form, but she has firm control on her use of the vulgar in public. Vice President Kamala Harris has thus far avoided public use of vulgarities. Is it possible women who have become successful in the knife-edged political world don’t need to use bad words to reinforce their power? They don’t pretend to be something they’re not, they don’t put on macho airs.

It was “Joe” Biden and not President Biden who used the vulgar word, and he knew what he was doing. He was sending the “tough Joe” message, underscoring his roots as a kid from Scranton, Pa., who scaled the Mount Everest of the political world. He may be tired of not being respected for his achievement.

There is, however, a cost to using such vulgarity, which is becoming more widely tolerated in today’s society. The vulgar suggests the common, the vulgate. Common isn’t what presidents should want to be.

Presidents of the United States are exceptional in achievement; there have been only 45 of them. They have power and authority, and their office warrants respect even from those who disagree with them on policy, as I do quite often. The president is the head of state as well as government. He has reached the uncommon apogee of the political world, and is, and should be, different. Not every president, especially lately, understands the importance of being uncommon.

Queen Elizabeth II demonstrated how to be uncommonly beloved. She was head of state and lived up to that position every minute.

Vulgarity is common-speak. Joe from Scranton has become President Biden. We need and expect him to continue to remind us by both deed and word that he is the president. Elections have consequences, and so do words.

Fay Vincent was commissioner of Major League Baseball, 1989-92.

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