John's Notebook: When they go low, we go low?

John's Notebook
John's Notebook 01:39

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has been swearing a lot lately.

“They call their budget a skinny budget, I call their budget a shitty budget,” he said of the Republican budget during a speech on Tuesday.

Gone is Michelle Obama’s advice for handling the opposition: “When they go low, we go high” -- the best Democratic line of the last campaign, and words we should all live by.

This is about more than crass language. In times of tension, do you keep your standards or drop them? The Washington Post asked Perez about his potty mouth and he pointed out correctly that Republicans have tolerated far worse from Donald Trump.

So, two wrongs make a right, and the race is on to the bottom -- or whatever is below the bottom.

At this point, you may be swearing in rebuttal. Party chairmen are supposed to be extreme. This conveys urgency. It excites the crowd. Plus, Donald Trump never paid a price. Essentially: this is good politics.

Is it really? If you oppose a president for his coarseness, why would you imitate it? Donald Trump’s primary opponents tried and failed at this.

Also, for a party with a message problem there’s something exhausting about the overuse of the manure spreader. It suggests a reliance on shock rather than the strength of an argument. The outburst is supposed to be spontaneous, but comes across as thoroughly calculated.

A pointed word now and again can be effective, as Bernie Sanders proved when he said, “The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.” But it was the prior restraint, not just the word, that made people take notice.