Jewish World Review July 14, 2004 /25 Tamuz, 5764
Edward I. Koch
The crass class
On Friday, July 9th the Kerry-Edwards campaign held a fundraising concert at Radio City Music Hall. By general agreement -- I was not there -- several of the performers, Whoopi Goldberg in particular, engaged in unprintable sexual references to President Bush, combining the President's family name with references to the female anatomy. They did the same with Vice President Dick Cheney's first name, this time referring to the male anatomy.
John Mellencamp sang a song, probably one he wrote, referring to the President as a "cheap thug" and a "Texas bandito." We are told by reporters who were present that other performers joined the chorus with other personal attacks on Bush. Both John Kerry and John Edwards were present in the theater and sitting through the crude, obscene attacks without protest and, I assume, applauded generously each of these performers. At the end of the show, John Kerry and John Edwards appeared on stage and Kerry thanked all of the performers, saying they conveyed, "the heart and soul of our country."
Heart and soul of our country? Whatever happened to fundamental standards of conduct and the values that both Kerry and Edwards surely exhibit in their own lives and refer to in their campaign speeches? Were they embarrassed for themselves, their wives and, more important, the country? Did they simply lack the integrity to stand up and say to the foul-mouthed Whoopi Goldberg, "Stop."
For the sake of argument, if any of these performers had engaged in racial jokes or anti-Semitic references would the candidates have felt compelled to stop the show? If they could not summon the courage to bring the show to a halt, shouldn't they have, at the every least, at the end of the show, noted what happened and disassociated themselves from the performers?
In response to reporters' questions, spokespeople for John Kerry later said, "John Kerry disagrees with some of the performers' comments, just as he disagrees with Vice President Cheney's unrepeatable, unacceptable and unapologetic insult to a U.S. Senator."
The latter comment deserves a derisive response. It is an outrage to compare what happened at the Kerry-Edwards fundraiser with the incident involving Vice President Cheney's obscene remark on the Senate floor that occurred after the Senate had gone out of session, and was made directly by Cheney to Senator Pat Leahy. The unrepeatable expression in polite society was "Go expletive yourself." The apparent reason for the three-word insult was Cheney's belief that he had been unfairly attacked by a friend and colleague who at the time of the exchange was fawning and engaging in hypocritical conversation.
Cheney told Leahy what he really thought of him in private, in a one-to-one conversation, not on the public stage used by Whoopi Goldberg and the other performers intending to reach the thousands in the auditorium and the millions of Americans who would surely learn of it. I believe Senator Leahy or his staffers made the incident publicly known.
Vice President Cheney summed up his feelings later remarking, "Ordinarily, I don't express myself in strong terms, but I thought it was appropriate here.''
Are there many of us, on being insulted and speaking directly to the insulter with the latter adding to the injury with his fawning behavior, who has not felt the urge to respond using an obscenity and given into it? I have. Let me recount the incident.
A week after I left office on January 1, 1990 -- having lost the Democratic primary in September 1989 to David Dinkins -- I went shopping. My destination was Balducci's, a food market on Sixth Avenue and Ninth Street. On the way, a number of neighbors welcomed me back to the neighborhood with generous comments like, "You were a good mayor, welcome back, we really like you, we will miss you as mayor." As anyone can appreciate, I felt good at being so well received. Then I arrived at Balducci's and there at the door was a young man in his 30s sitting on a bicycle, looking a bit disheveled. He saw me and wagging his finger at me said, "You were a terrible mayor." Without hesitation, I responded, "Expletive you!" I felt liberated.
Sixteen years earlier, in 1974, I similarly gave vent. I was a Congressman at the time and acting as an advance man for Robert Morgenthau, who was running for the first time for Manhattan district attorney. I was introducing him on a hot August Saturday morning to my constituents walking down Lexington Avenue from 86th Street to Bloomingdales on 59th Street. As we got within a half block of the store, I heard the strident call, "Here they come, the two war criminals, Morgenthau and Koch." The reference was to the Vietnam War and was repeated by the four young men several times, using megaphones. Finally, one approached me and yelled close to my ear, "War criminal, war criminal." I turned to him and said, "Expletive off!" He, about 25 years old, was startled by my reply and cried to the now sizable crowd standing at the corner, "Congressman Koch just told me to 'expletive off.'" The crowd burst into applause.
Kerry's and Edwards' silence when their voices should have been heard deserve condemnation.
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© 2002, Edward I. Koch