As a retired English teacher with extremely delicate
sensibilities, I've spent the last two weeks brooding over a question I've
always hoped I'd never have to brood over.
It may be a question you've been brooding over tooif your
sensibilities are delicate enough. The question, of course, is this:
Why in the name of sweet reason would a major party candidate for
the highest office in the land speak an unprintable word into an open
microphone in front of television cameras?
The speaker, we all know, was George W. Bush, scion of a fine old
family, and a graduate of Andover, Yale, and Harvard. Here's what he
"There's Adam Clymermajor league terminal digestive orifice from
the New York Times."
Except he didn't say "terminal digestive orifice." Since I'm
retired now, I can be brutally frank. What he said was "@#$*&"! Yes he
So why? Why would he say that? And into a live microphone?
At the end of my two weeks' brooding, I've come up with this
Given his breeding and educational background, it couldn't have
been George W.'s fault. And here are three reasons it wasn't his fault:
1. He didn't know the microphone was open. He knew it would be
open when he began his speech in a minute or two, but he couldn't imagine
that it might be open before he wanted it to be open. This comes from
attending Andover, Yale, and Harvard.
2. Genetic predisposition to make little potty-talk jokes. It's
not his fault he inherited them, is it? When his father said he'd "kicked
a little @$&" in his 1984 debate with Geraldine Ferraro, all the Bushes
laughed. It's just the way alpha males talk in that family.
3. But most importantly, it wasn't his fault because Richard B.
Cheney didn't do the job he was supposed to be doing.
You probably don't get that last one. As a retired English
teacher, I've taught a lot of literature, see, so I know about things like
this. I'll explain.
Everybody said, you'll remember, that Republicans put Mr. Cheney
on the ticket to provide gravitas to balance the soap-bubble lightness of
what Maureen Dowd called Young George's "inner frat boy."
But English teachers know better. Mr. Cheney is on the ticket to
be a kind of family retainer-private tutor-traveling companion-guardian
for Young George.
And it was to Mr. Cheney that Young George opined that Mr. Clymer
is a "major league @#$*&."
To which Mr. Cheney replied, "Oh yeah. He is, big time."
That's the way family retainer-private tutor-traveling
companion-guardians are supposed to respond to unspeakable vulgarities?
I think not.
All the good family retainer-private tutor-traveling
companion-guardians Ive read about would have said something like this:
The Truth, Mainly
"With all due respect, Young Master George, it's really quite
impolitic to label an enemy with such vulgarities as 'major league @#$*&.'
It just isn't done in our circles, especially while standing in front of a
microphone. If you must refer to Mr. Clymer in disparaging terms, do so
with an element of indirection that suggests a modicum of wit and good
taste. Perhaps 'a major league terminal digestive orifice.' Or, to give
it a genteel Chaucerian flavor, 'a major league nether eye.' Or, in a bit
of disarming self-deprecation, 'a Bush league anal aperture.' Almost
anything, sir, would be better than 'major league @#$*&.'"
But Mr. Cheney, alas, said nothing like that. Mr. Cheney said "Oh
yeah. He is, big time."
Is that not an enabling response? An invitation to even more
I mean, how would you have reacted had your own family
retainer-private tutor-traveling companion-guardian responded that way to
your childish experimentation in impolite language?
So you see what I mean when I say it wasn't the lad's fault. It
was the fault of the mentor and I shouldn't be surprised if Poppy had him
I hope that's an end on it and we can put behind us this sorry
lapse of the obligation of the nobility to set an example for the rest of
us. But I worry about other possibilities:
Does Mr. Cheney have a Machiavellian plan to instruct his young
charge in habits that will lead to an impeachment and put Vice-President
Cheney in the White House?
Or is Mr. Cheney a double agent in the hire of arch-villain Al
Gore, his task being to draw out Young Master George's inner frat boy?
Or, God love us, does Mr. Cheney believe that Young Master
George's chivalric quest to restore decency and dignity to the presidency
is so pure he can talk as dirty as he wants to talk, our delicate
sensibilities be damned?
Goodness gracious and heavens to Betsy, I hope not.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail