Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

On calling Ben Rhodes an ‘asshole’

On Friday in this blog I called Ben Rhodes, an advisor to the president, an "asshole." I received several notes emphatically agreeing with that assessment, most especially one from a retired general, and another from a retired State Department official.

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On Friday in this blog I called Ben Rhodes, an advisor to the president, an "asshole." I received several notes emphatically agreeing with that assessment, most especially one from a retired general, and another from a retired State Department official.

But some other people, equally reasonable, questioned whether by doing so I was contributing to the coarsening of American discourse. I would plead nolo contendere. That is, I agree that it was coarse usage. But I am pretty sure I have never called someone an "asshole" in print before, and I would be happy never to do so again.

So why did I do it?

On Friday in this blog I called Ben Rhodes, an advisor to the president, an “asshole.” I received several notes emphatically agreeing with that assessment, most especially one from a retired general, and another from a retired State Department official.

But some other people, equally reasonable, questioned whether by doing so I was contributing to the coarsening of American discourse. I would plead nolo contendere. That is, I agree that it was coarse usage. But I am pretty sure I have never called someone an “asshole” in print before, and I would be happy never to do so again.

So why did I do it?

This was, I thought, a special circumstance, in which the word “asshole” perfectly fit the person, in the technical sense of an asshole being someone who is kind of a screw-up but lacks the self awareness to know it. A more refined definition was offered by the philosopher Aaron James, who said it is someone who “allows himself to enjoy special advantages in social relations out of an entrenched sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.” If the shoe fits, wear it, Ben.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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