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Progressively Profane

by James Lileks

The official Obama merchandise store isn’t aimed at the 99 percent, unless they can get enough selling plasma to buy that $74 tank top. You can’t imagine anyone in the OWS movement donning a $55 Rachel Roy flag shirt while toting a bucket of effluent to dump in a bank lobby. You can also buy nail polish sporting the Obama logo. As befits the most transparent administration in history, it probably turns opaque after it’s applied.

A big favorite: a $30 T-shirt that says “HEALTH REFORM STILL A BFD.” Readers not schooled in the pithy abbreviations of the text-speak may puzzle over that one a while. Beneficial Financial Decision? Boon For Democrats? Burgundy Floral Dress? Barking Fox Disease? Beautiful Fiscal Delusion? WHAT?

It means “Big [Blanking] Deal,” and it’s a quote from Joe Biden. It is vulgar, which is why the Left adores it. So honest! So direct! To unfurl the F-flag is a sign you’re not held back by any phony Victorian restraints, man — why, the people who covered up piano legs with pants because naked carved wood would incite lust in the menfolk were the same people who would swoon to the fainting couch if you spoke in the Brutally Honest Words of the People.

Granted, it’s not limited to the Left; Sarah Palin used the term “WTF” a few times in references to the president’s remarks, and she didn’t mean “Wipe That Formica.” The abbreviation “F” is the means by which the rest of the word will enter public conversation, until the president begins the 2040 State of the Union speech by announcing it is Effing Awesome.

You scoff. 2040? That long? Depends. By then the very letter itself could morph into an intensifying adjective unmoored from its original meaning, a frank feisty frickative sprinkled like salt –

You’re still scoffing. What? Oh, the piano-leg story? You’re right; it’s a myth. The story actually arose from an anecdote about prudish 19th-century Americans and was transplanted to those stiff repressed English people who invented corduroy prophylactics so they wouldn’t be tempted by physical pleasure. People believe the story today because the past is full of stupid people, and it’s fun to look back and point fingers and say “Ha ha! You thought the Sun revolved around the Earth because the pope said so. Dumb old dead people.”

It is necessary for progressives to disparage most of the past, because it is filled with people whose enlightenment was incomplete by the standards of March 14, 2012. If someone expressed forward-thinking ideas, he gets a pass, like the Catholic Church’s designation of Cicero as a Worthy Pagan. If somebody’s remembered for something essential to the progressive construct, like reproductive freedom, he can be excused for wanting to sterilize “defectives” and “Sons of Ham” and other inconvenient remnants of their benighted age. But for the most part, the past is a tale of powerful idiots squatting on the heads of the proto-proles, keeping them from standing erect, blinking in the sun of a new day, and trotting off to have an abortion at a union-run infanticide center located in the husk of a decommissioned church.

Let us consider one of those progress-thwarting morons: Rutherford B. Hayes. One of those boring bulky sacks of white privilege best remembered now as the recipient of our current president’s stinging rebuke. In a speech painting everyone who didn’t want to blow the rent money on solar-cell charlatans as troglodytes, he cited Hayes’s supposed reaction to the telephone. Obama said: “‘It’s a great invention, but who would ever want to use one?’ That’s why he’s not on Mount Rushmore. He’s explaining why we can’t do something instead of why we can do something.”

Apparently the president’s speechwriters do their research on Yahoo! Answers. You’re surprised Obama didn’t go on to praise men like Walt Disney, who believed in the future so much he had his head removed and cryogenically frozen. In fact, Hayes had the first telephone installed in the White House, and the apocryphal quote should strike any thinking person as prima facie nonsense. Say you’re Hayes. You live in an age of technological marvels. You are presented with a device that transmits the human voice across great distance, thereby alerting you to disasters, wars, weevil smut, a spasmodic fiscal panic, perfidious Spanish plots, and all the rest of the 19th-century problems that concern a chief executive. Naturally you’d stare at it and think: Instantaneous two-way communications. I can’t see where this would come in handy.

Sure, that makes sense. But it is important to trot out old flat-earthers like Hayes to cosset modern sensibilities. For a tribe that prides itself on its preternatural sensitivity to nuance — dog-whistle racial appeals, the hidden message of crosshairs on a map — the Left seems remarkably unwilling to admit that its philosophical adversaries have objections that can’t be boiled down to “Ogg see fire! Ogg scared! Ogg hit with rock!” We’re idiots to them. If you object to the specifics of “progressive” proposals, you object to civilization itself. If you scoff at a particular “clean-energy” subsidy, you would have opposed Columbus. Doesn’t matter that you’re actually objecting to hawking the Queen’s jewels to fund Columbus’s plan to go to Mars via catapult.

Perhaps the Hayes quote was just rhetoric for the faithful, eager to be reassured that the other side consists of Biblical literalists whose ears glow red when they hear naughty phonemes. Or perhaps the president scans the lines about dumb old Hayes and thinks, “Typical.” Which would mean he has no BS detector.

Which would seem like a BFD.

– Mr. Lileks blogs at

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