The Truth, Mainly - 09/18/2000

By George, it was "@#$*&" Cheney's fault
by Leon Satterfield

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 too—if 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 said:

"There's Adam Clymer—major 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 did.

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 answer:

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:

"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 vulgarity?

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 flogged.

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 address is:

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