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A Brief History of Presidential Profanity

From Lincoln to LBJ, dirty words are nothing new in the White House

romney obama presidents swearing

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When President Obama called Mitt Romney a "bullshitter" in the pages of Rolling Stone earlier this year, it set off a brief firestorm. Defenders of the Republican candidate were shocked – shocked! – that the man holding the highest office in the land would resort to such language. In truth, the halls of the White House (like nearly every other house in the country, with the apparent exception of Romney's) have heard no shortage of profanity over the decades. It's a dirty job, leading the free world. Sometimes it takes a few dirty words. Read on for a brief history of presidential (and vice-presidential, and presidential candidate) profanity.

bill clinton swearing presidents

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Bill Clinton

Before riding to President Obama's rescue with his Democratic National Convention speech in September, Bill Clinton wasn't exactly on the best of terms with the current prez. When Obama beat Hillary Clinton in South Carolina's Democratic primary in 2008, the former president compared the victory to Jesse Jackson's primary wins back in the Eighties. The Obama campaign hinted that the analogy was racially tinged, and Clinton shot back: "I don't think I should take any shit from anybody on that, do you?"

richard nixon swearing presidents

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Richard Nixon

The Watergate tapes put the phrase "expletive deleted" on the map – White House protesters held signs that read "Impeach the (Expletive Deleted)!" The tapes covered a lot more mundane moments than the wiretapping operation that got the president impeached. In one, Nixon is watching his beloved Redskins attempt to complete a major comeback against the Dallas Cowboys. "Son of a bitch," he mutters when the push falls short. 

lyndon b johnson swearing presidents

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Lyndon Johnson

"People said my language was bad," recalled Nixon, "but Jesus, you should have heard LBJ." Few if any presidents have been quite as coarse as Johnson, who famously consulted with cabinet members while he sat on the crapper with the door open. His language was salted with profanity. "I do know the difference between chicken shit and chicken salad," he once said.

john f kennedy swearing president

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John F. Kennedy

Eloquent at the podium, JFK could swear like a sailor (which he was, of course) away from the microphone. When word leaked that the Air Force had spent $5000 to furnish a maternity suite for Jackie Kennedy at Otis Air Force Base, the president knew the expenditure would be used as a political football. "This is obviously a fuck-up," he fumed to a hapless general over the phone.

harry truman swearing presidents

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Harry Truman

The folksy "Give 'Em Hell Harry" was beloved by some and tsk-tsked by others for the colorful language he attributed to his youthful days working on the Santa Fe railroad, when he slept in hobo camps. In Truman's eyes, General Douglas MacArthur was a "dumb son of a bitch," and Nixon was "a shifty-eyed goddamned liar." 

"I never did give them hell," he once reminisced. "I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell." It was an earlier, simpler time.

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