GOP Sen. Ted Cruz faces off against Democratic challenger U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke tonight at SMU in their first of three debates, and no doubt Texans everywhere will be glued to their screens to learn the answer to the race's most pressing question: Will O'Rourke say the word?
You know. The WORD. Fudge, frack, freak, the F in STFU, as in STFU already with the F-bombs, Beto.
Sorry for the euphemisms. In the past, the Observer used to toss the, um, fudges around pretty freely. These days, though, one never knows when Mark Zuckerberg might get religion and consign foul-mouthed motherfudgers to some social media netherworld. Can't have that.
Plus, we've grown up. Or grown older, anyway. The point is, we've cut back on the fudges because they tend to come across tinny in prose and make our words sound like every other fudging anonymous troll on the internet. We're not exactly striving for gravitas. God forbid. We just don't want to sound like a 14-year-old video gamer — not all the time. We don't want our senator to sound like one either.
Oh, the Observer will still use the real McCoy in direct quotations, but it's not like long ago, when we had a media columnist — Eric something, I forget his name — who wrote an essay arguing that one reason alternative media would thrive and square media like The Dallas Morning News would sink was because we were willing to toss fudge around like we worked at a beachside tourist trap. We were more honest. It hasn't seemed to help that much.
Cruz's camp tried to score points off O'Rourke for the latter's frequent use of fudge on the campaign trail, even compiling a sort of Best of Beto's Fudges ad, with all the naughty words bleeped out.
That ad has disappeared from YouTube, but the Texas Tribune has compiled a video that does pretty much the same thing.
O'Rourke's supporters say his frequent fudges are just a sign of how passionate he is about the need for change in Washington. He's speaking his mind, or he's speaking from the heart.
Uh-huh. Couple of things about that. First, have you noticed what happens whenever President Donald Trump says or tweets something so egregious that even his hard-core supporters must be shocked? East Coast reporters put on their pith helmets and travel west of the Hudson to find out what Real Americans have to say. Invariably, they line up interviews with people who look like somebody's Uncle Homer or Aunt Iva, who say things like, "Well, I don't always agree with how he says it, but at least he speaks his mind."
Well, yeah, Homer, that's the problem. Words echo what's on the mind. Bad mind, bad words, even without extraneous fudges.
Or they say Trump's just speaking from his heart, which is arguably worse, assuming he has one. In any case, if a candidate is relying on a Trump-like defense to explain his language, perhaps he needs a new language.
Look, I'm not nanny-like in any fashion, and I understand how various body parts play into how one speaks. Let me give you a personal, true example.
My mother, before she got old and afraid of God, then died, had possibly the foulest mouth outside the U.S. penal system, backed up by a vicious left hook. She, my mother, mind you, was the first of many, many people to call me a "son of a bitch." I might have been 10. Probably had it coming.
As I recall, my young brain formed a retort: "Yeah, you got that right."
My heart, which was a bit hurt, said: "Go ahead. Say it."
Luckily, my ass stepped in. "Are you crazy?" it said. "Are you trying to get me killed?"
So I listened to my better part and said nothing, for which my mouth was grateful, as I still have all 32 of my teeth.
See, being judicious in language and taking into account one's listeners doesn't show a lack of passion. It shows an abundance of thought, a view toward consequences. Consider Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, one of the most eloquent pieces of prose in American political history. Its last sentence:
"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."
The end of the Civil War was a fairly passionate time in politics, too, but it's doubtful Lincoln's words would have rung throughout the ages if he'd let fly with: "With fucking malice toward none, with charity for all motherfuckers, with firmness in the fucking right as God gives us to see the right ..."
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See? Tinny. Off-putting. Ineffective communication.
My point is that it's possible to reflect a passionate heart and an intelligent mind simultaneously, and the keys to that are well-chosen language and good manners.
On the other hand, if O'Rourke did drop an F-bomb at the debate, that'd be fudging awesome (14-year-old boys never die, they just get covered in fat and wrinkles). On the other, other hand, if Cruz said ... well, that's just too awful to contemplate.
You can catch the one-hour debate tonight at 6 p.m. on TV or via live stream on NBC5.