The F-word continues to reverberate both on Capitol Hill and in the Washington Post newsroom.
VP Cheney, who uttered “Fuck Yourself” to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) late last week, refused to apologize or express any misgivings that he said it.
OK. Most of us have probably said this at some point, though probably not to a U.S. Senator. But here’s what Cheney said to Bush before they were elected, er I mean stole the election.
“I look forward to working with you, Governor, to change the tone in Washington, to restore a spirit of civility and respect and cooperation.…The days of the war room and the permanent campaign are over. . . . We take seriously the responsibility to be honest and civil.” So said Mr. Cheney in February 2001, in his first major speech as vice president.
But Friday he said,
“I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it,” Cheney told Neil Cavuto of Fox News. The vice president said those who heard the putdown agreed with him. “I think that a lot of my colleagues felt that what I had said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue.”
Badly needed to be said? Did he think that Leahy would as a result change his position on the war become a Republican because the VP pointed out the senator’s inability to contort himself?
Evidently, the usually pompous and pious Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) was OK with remark, too.
“With regard to the vice president’s comments, I did not hear the comments, did not witness the comments, but clearly they reflect a lot of that emotion,” he said. “Without taking one side or the other, a lot of personal feelings are being expressed, and that emotion came out by the vice president, and I’ll let the American people judge as to whether or not it was warranted.”
Pressed whether he condones the use of such language in the Senate, Frist pointed out that the chamber was not in session at the time, “so I am not going to condone, I am not going to overly criticize the language that people in the — the language that people use to express themselves.”
The “Wear-my-religion-on-my-sleeve” Dubya was also sanguine about it.
On Saturday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush had no problem with his vice president’s language. “It’s not an issue with the president,” McClellan said.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post, which set tongues a-wagging when it published the obscenity uncensored, felt the need to explain itself and address the lack of consistency that we highlighted last week.
“When the vice president of the United States says it to a senator in the way in which he said it on the Senate floor,” says Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr., “readers need to judge for themselves what the word is because we don’t play games at The Washington Post and use dashes.” At the same time, the article recalled that in 2000 then-candidate George Bush made an off-mike comment about Adam Clymer, then a New York Times reporter, calling him a “major-league [expletive],” to which Cheney responded, “Big time.” Downie said the paper used the vulgar term for an orifice at the time and he saw no reason to repeat it in yesterday’s newspaper.
The Post also editorialized on the matter.
Whenever one of these angry moments comes along, someone points out that politics has always been rough-and-tumble, that attacks were pretty vicious in Thomas Jefferson’s day, and so on, all of which is true. It’s also true, though, as Mr. Cheney said in 2001, that there’s been less and less willingness in recent years to assume good faith on the other side, a trend that makes governing more difficult. Mr. Cheney indicated yesterday on Fox News that he has no regrets (“I felt better after I said it”), which in itself is another sad milepost.
The inability of this administration to admit fault continues to have deadly consequences, which are certainly more critical than an occasional “fuck.” But that the VP could not, as most had expected, simply say “I’m sorry I lost my temper” raises the question of whether that inability is seriously pathological.