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Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones

Erik is out of the office this week, so we're reprinting a column from 2004 to see if the political climate has changed at all in the intervening 11 years. Although the names have changed, the pettiness and whining have not.

It takes a lot to get politicians in an uproar. They're generally pretty easy going, level-headed, and not prone to immature outbursts about silly issues.

Wait, I was thinking of my children.

Politicians, on the other hand, have an overdeveloped sense of righteous indignation that flares up when they think it will serve a purpose. Which is whenever a journalist is nearby

It's happened twice in the past month, and people on both ends of the political spectrum have gotten their panties in a bunch over public comments made by someone on the other side.

A few weeks ago, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called some California Democrats "girlie men," recalling the Hans and Franz skits from "Saturday Night Live."

He blamed state Democrats for delaying the budget, claiming they were catering to special interests.

"If they don't have the guts to come up here in front of you and say, 'I don't want to represent you, I want to represent those special interests, the unions, the trial lawyers' — if they don't have the guts, I call them girlie men," Schwarzenegger said, according to a CNN.com story.

You would have thought Schwarzenegger had kicked a puppy and told a dirty joke to a group of nuns. Women's groups were apoplectic, and the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus was livid. Charges of homophobia and misogyny flew like bullets in a Schwarzenegger flick. But following in the tradition of the leaders of his party, the Republican governor didn't apologize for his remarks.

"If they complain too much about this, I guess they're making the governor's point," spokesman Rob Stutzman said to CNN.

The remark also offended actual girlie men around the country, who stamped their little feet and flung their Williams-Sonoma catalogs to the ground.

So with two simple words, Arnold was able to offend two different groups of Californians.

Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of Senator John Kerry, managed a similar feat, although she only offended right-wing journalists.

Earlier this week, after being badgered by Colin McNickle, editorial page editor of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — a conservative newspaper — she pointed her finger at him and told him to "shove it."

I presume she didn't mean her finger.

Many news analysts and pundits wondered whether she would be a liability to her husband's presidential campaign.

Of course, these are the same pundits who started using the term "red meat" during the Democratic convention this week, so I wouldn't put too much stock into what they say.

Mary Beth Cahill, Kerry's campaign manager, was asked by David Broder of The Washington Post, "Who's in charge of keeping her on message?"

"She just says what she thinks. She's her own person," Cahill replied. "So get bent!"

She really didn't say that last part, but I'm sure she wanted to.

"That's going to be wild if she gets to be first lady," said Rep. Ray LaHood (R-IL.), in a story on HillNews.com.

Republicans were actually pretty quiet about the whole incident, which is not that surprising, given the party's gaffes in the last four years.

In 2000, on the campaign trail, then-Governor Bush leaned over to Dick Cheney and pointed out a reporter from the New York Times. "That's Adam Clymer," said Bush. "He's a major league a**hole." "Oh yeah, big time," Cheney added, his rapier wit working overtime.

The problem was, the dissing duo wasn't aware a microphone was picking up their little exchange. The "a**hole" heard 'round the world haunted them for a couple of weeks afterward.

And who can forget last month when, while on the Senate floor, Vice President Cheney invited Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to have sex with himself.

"Go f*** yourself," was actually what he said.

Needless to say, the Republicans can't really complain about Heinz Kerry's "shove it" statement when the Vice President of the United States goes around encouraging US Senators to commit unnatural and nearly impossible sexual acts.

But it makes me wonder, if I ever decide to run for public office, will my own unpredictability and off-the-cuff remarks prove to be a liability? Will I be lambasted by my opponents and the media because of my potty mouth? Would a remark like that eventually prove to be my undoing?

Who knows? But if anyone wants to make an issue of it, they can bite me!


The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com
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