Critical Patriotism: OK to insult the President? The VP? protests against our government are a longstanding tradition. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, public rage against the Bush adminisration literally spilled over the flood-damaged walls and fences of New Orleans.QUICK: What’s your impression of Joe Biden?
In a single word, what describes your impression of him?

The most frequently used word is “good,” according to a Research Center survey. “Idiot” is the second most frequent. Other negative names include “incompetent” and “clown.” Overall, 38% of people used negative words to describe Biden, about 23% used positive words, and 39% used neutral terms.

Is it OK to call our nation’s vice president, president—or any elected official—by derogatory terms like “idiot”? Of course, it’s an exercise of free speech, so it is permissible under that rationale. And, in this situation, the name-calling respondents were hidden behind the survey’s cloak of anonymity, so there was no accountability.

But I’m sure some Americans wouldn’t hesitate to call Biden an idiot—to his face. And there would be no reprisal for doing so (aside from possible hurt feelings). That’s because Americans are free to criticize their government and officials. Many do so not out of malice but out of love of country and the desire to have them live up to our ideals.

This is called critical patriotism, a kind of tough love of country.

What do Americans say—in a single word—about President Obama? “Good” and “trying” are the most frequently cited words. “Failure” and “incompetent” are the most frequently cited negative words. The numbers of Americans who use positive versus negative words to describe Obama are evenly split—there are few who use neutral descriptors.

Romney and Ryan haven’t escaped Pew’s one-word test. The most commonly used words for Romney are “honest,” “businessman,” and “rich”—but overall, more negative terms are used than positive. The most frequently used words for Ryan are “conservative,” “intelligent,” “good,” “unknown,” and “young.”

What’s your one-word description of Biden—or Obama, Romney, or Ryan?

It is OK to use derogatory terms like “idiot?”

What are the boundaries for criticizing our government?

Please, leave a Comment below.

Originally published at, an experiment in civil dialogue about American values.

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