The Art of the Insult

One of the problems with being politically or socially active these days is all the name calling.  You can’t say five words in a reasonable discussion anymore without somebody calling somebody else a dirt bag or worse.  I’m as guilty as everybody else.  In my defence, I don’t go in for some of the juicy items, but I’m absolutely addicted to “dumb-ass.”   The result is, of course, people just get angry and reply in kind.  Gone are the days when rational debate carried an intelligent component that elevated the subject; instead, we have the current climate of trash talk that diminishes it.  Personally, I’m not going to speculate about how we got here, but if it walks like a fox, talks like a fox and looks like a fox, chances are good it’s FOX.  However, as we continue to holler, kick and spit our way through the 21st century, sometimes there is a brief, shining moment when civility returns to the art of the insult.

Let me start this discussion by saying I’m not Obama bashing.  I kinda like the guy.  I don’t agree with his politics (because I think he’s a dumb-ass) but for the most part, I think he’s doing the best he can, given the circumstances.  Okay, now that’s out of the way, it’s the president’s prerogative to make foreign policy.  He sets the tone of the administration.  Historically, there’s been the Monroe Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, the Nixon Agenda and many others.  When Obama was elected president, he wanted to cut a clear path away from the Bush administration.  He wanted to get rid of the “them or us” world philosophy, wipe the slate clean and open the discussion – to everybody — equally.

Unfortunately, that meant distancing himself from the old Blair-Bush Project which had been set up after 9/11 to coordinate the War on Terror.  This wasn’t a big stretch for Obama, because, like most American, he thinks Britain is a bit of a has-been power, sitting at the head table because of its glorious history.  Besides, Obama isn’t a huge fan of Britain anyway or its colonial past (with good reason.)  However, in his zeal to symbolically demonstrate that nobody was getting special treatment on Pennsylvania Avenue anymore, he has damaged — if not destroyed — the “special relationship” America has had with Britain for about 100 years now.

Barack Obama learned his trade in Chicago, where subtle hasn’t been in vogue since before Al Capone was running the city from the Lexington Hotel.  Remember, this is the town where taxi drivers once showed their displeasure with Mayor Jane Byrne by plastering their cabs with bumper stickers that read “Jane, you ignorant slut!”  Politics is practiced with a heavy hand in Illinois, and Obama learned it that way.  He’s the master of the sweeping gesture, the grand vision, but he hasn’t really caught on to nuance yet.  But in international circles nuance is all there is.

I’m not going to get into the sordid details of Obama’s mishandling of British sensibilities because it all just sounds bitchy.  Besides, if you want to you can read all about it in any Fleet Street tabloid.  However, a few choice items do stand out.  To begin with, Obama hadn’t even reset the burglar alarm at the White House when he told the British to come and get the bust of Winston Churchill they’d given George Bush after 9/11.  This is no big deal, by the way: every president redecorates his office.  The problem is the guy did it publicly.  He could have just as easily put it in the basement and forgotten about it, but he didn’t.  In fact, he made a show of making the Brits take it back.  Then, of course, there’s the notorious exchange of gifts during Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s state visit to Washington.  One of the gifts Brown gave Obama — on behalf of the British people — was a pen holder, made from the timbers of the anti-slave ship HMS Gannett.  There’s huge symbolic significance to this.  In response Obama gave Prime Minister Brown a 25 DVD boxed set of classic American movies.  (No, I’m not kidding!)  The head of state of the most powerful nation in the history of the world cruised over to Walmart and went $49.95 to get something special for America’s oldest ally.  And I don’t care how many times the apologists deny it: I am absolutely certain the most of folks at Team Obama knew damn well American DVDs don’t work in Britain.

Diplomatically, the Obama White House has made a fetish out of pulling the British lion’s tail.  In Argentina, Hillary Clinton assured the government there that America would support a negotiated settlement to the question of who owns the Falkland Islands, a piece of real estate that Britain fought a war over.  Then, during the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the White House repeatedly talked about putting a “boot to the throat” of “British Petroleum.”  (Incidentally, the company changed its name to BP over a decade ago) This was an environmental catastrophe, but these are pretty harsh words for a country addicted to fossil fuel.  Obama’s people didn’t even use that kind of language when I’m a Dinner Jacket – oops — Ahmadinejad threatened to get some atomic bombs and kill all the Jews.  And the hits just keep on coming, and the Brits have to take it ‘cause they’re the junior partner. 

So here we are in February, 2011, and in a couple of months, the man who will be King is getting married.  Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s grandson William is going to walk down the aisle with Kate Middleton in front of 1900 people and a worldwide audience of about a billion.  Now take a wild guess who’s not going to be there?  Mr. and Mrs. Obama.   Barack and Michelle will have to wander on over to the Elephant and Castle Genuine British Pub in Georgetown and watch it on the big screen.  To all those people who say this isn’t a snub?  Crap!  Here’s the deal: that little lady at Windsor Castle represents the British people, and it’s her government the Obama boys have been pushing around.  BP is a British company that employs thousands of her subjects.  Her son fought in the Falkland Islands, and her grandson was in Afghanistan.  She and her people are just as proud of their country and their heritage as anybody else.

Royal displeasure doesn’t come with the whack of an axe anymore, but it’s still there, and it is real.  There’s only one reason Michelle Obama is not representing the United States of America at this royal wedding.  (After all, First Lady Nancy Reagan did it – twice!)  The Queen doesn’t want her there.  You and I and everybody else on the planet knows it.  I don’t care what kind of excuses everybody’s making.  Remember: Queen Elizabeth II was doing star power before Barack and Michelle were even born.  She understands what international celebrity means. 

We live in a world that’s gone loud with people shouting abuse at each other.   Opinion is considered carte blanche to be rude.  Fortunately, however, there are still people around who have the good manners to deliver a deliberate insult without ever uttering a word.

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