The most searing moment in my education came when I was only a
first-grader in my little hometown in southwest Kansas.
It was the teacher's fault.
Like all the other first-grade boys, I was in love with her. We
paid attention to everything she said.
And one day, she came up with a great idea for teaching phonics to
us: she'd write a one-syllable word on the blackboard and ask us to come
up with as many rhyming words as we could. It worked well. We started to
see the connection between how a word sounds and how it's spelled.
Then she made a Big Mistake. She wrote "duck" on the board.
"Luck," one of us said, and she wrote it on the board.
"Stuck," another said, and she wrote it on the board.
"Buck," someone else said, and she wrote it on the board.
Then there was a long silence.
"Come on, now," she said. "What else sounds like 'duck'?"
And poor Bobby Budd, one of my best friends, spoke the
"-uck," he said. Only he didn't leave off the "f" at the
"-uck?" our teacher said. "There's no such word as -uck."
And she didn't leave off the "f" at the beginning either. I see
now that she was a very brave teacher.
But we all knew that there was such a word. We didn't know what
it meant, but we knew it was unspeakable and only Bobby Budd had the
innocence to speak it. Out loud and to an adult. He sat at the desk
behind me and I scooted forward to escape the thunderbolt that was surely
Divine Retribution was slow, but certain. Bobby went blind 55
And now comes Vice President Cheneyjust hours after he was right
here in Lincoln late last month!to speak the unspeakable.
As a representative of this most pious of administrations, he told
Sen. Patrick Leahy, right there on the floor of the U.S. Senate, to "go
have sexual intercourse with yourself." Except he didn't say "have sexual
intercourse with yourself."
He said "Go f- yourself."
Except he didn't say "f-." He filled in the blanks with letters
that made it rhyme with "duck."
Unlike Bobby Budd and my whole first-grade class back in 1940, our
Vice President wasn't overcome with guilt. He later told Fox News, with
no apparent remorse, that "I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt
better after I had done it."
He could have delivered his opinion in a more genteel way. "Go
have coitus with yourself," he might have said. Or "Go seduce yourself."
Or "Go copulate with your alter-ego."
But no. He said "Go f- yourself," something that Maureen Dowd
wrote "you won't even find described in Bill Clinton's 'My Life.'"
Let me come to the Vice President's defense.
The Truth, Mainly
We should remember that he was talking to a Democrat and you have
to be quite blunt with them or they won't get it.
"I think he was just having a bad day," Sen. Leahy said.
What happened, see, was that the senator had said something
uncomplimentary about the Vice President's suspected role in getting
no-bid military contracts for his old employer, Halliburton Co.
So how would you expect him to respond? That's a serious charge.
Personally, I'm not offended by the Vice President's foul
Sticks and stones, and all that.
It's a matter of taste rather than a matter of morality. Saying
what he said is a little like relieving yourself in your front yard rather
than going indoors to the bathroom. I'd prefer you'd not do it while I
was walking by, but hey, different strokes for different folks.
Clearly what the Vice President said was obscene, but it was what
English teachers who want to sound like MDs call a benign obscenity. It
might even be a therapeutic obscenity since he said he felt better after
he said it.
What offends me much more are the malignant obscenities the Vice
President sometimes utters.
For example, his continuing insistence that Saddam was somehow
responsible for the al Qaida terrorist attacks of 9/11even though he
never offers any evidence.
Or the malignant obscenity of continuing to repeat the
administration's fairy tale that we invaded Iraq because Saddam was about
to use weapons of mass destruction against us. Again, only the
chargebut no evidence.
And sometimes malignant obscenities consist of silence, of what's
not saidas when the President and the Vice-President continue their
reticence about Red Cross reports of what went on, what may still be going
on, at Abu Ghraib prison.
That's an obscenity that makes what the Vice President said to
Sen. Leahy sound like an invitation to a Sunday School picnic.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail