Vice President Dick Cheney admitted Friday that he "probably" used an obscenity in a heated exchange with Democratic senator Patrick Leahy.
Cheney uttered a common vulgarity for sexual intercourse, variously heard by witnesses as "f--k you" or "go f--k yourself," in the normally staid Senate chambers following references by Leahy to Cheney's involvement with corporate giant Halliburton.
In a later appearance on Fox News, a feisty Cheney defended his four-letter rebuke. "I expressed myself rather forcefully; felt better after I had done it," he said. He added that many of his Republican colleagues cheered his clever rebuke as something that "badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue."
Leahy later sardonically described the exchange as "a little floor debate between me and my good friend Dick -- and I do mean Dick -- Cheney." When asked by a Washington Times reporter to elaborate, Leahy replied, "What? Do I need to draw you a picture, a--hole?"
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, calling for his colleagues to rise above "partisan retaliation," said he was surprised the usually mild-mannered Leahy would resort to such language. "But that's about what I'd expect from a c--sucker like Cheney," he added. "Yeah, I said 'c--sucker.' And I feel great!"
Although many in government have deplored the increasing rancor and vulgarity in political discourse, others insist such heated rhetoric is a necessary part of the frank exchange of ideas and is "long overdue."
"We've still got a little thing called freedom of speech in this country," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "And any son of a b--h who tries to mess with the First Amendment is gonna get my eagle soaring right up his a--!"
In a rare press conference, President Bush told reporters he was glad to hear Ashcroft coming out so forcefully for the Constitution. "Maybe he's not such a d--smoker after all," Bush mused to a clearly surprised press corps. He added, in apparent reference to Ashcroft's covering of seminude statues in the Department of Justice, "Come on, don't tell me you guys didn't think he was a f----t for covering up those statues. Those were the hottest t--s in D.C.!"
This coarsening of the national dialogue has recently shown signs of spreading worldwide. After the recent defeat of a Bush administration resolution before the United Nations, one delegate described Secretary-General Kofi Annan as "one bad--s m----------r." When fellow delegates -- after an unusually long wait for translation -- expressed outrage at his characterization, the diplomat defended himself by saying, "Hey, I'm just trying to give my boy Kofi his props."
Even the ultra-debonair Tony Blair has gotten into the act, calling on French prime minister Jacques Chirac to "lighten up" about Iraq and "stop being such a t--d in the punch bowl."
One consequence of this verbal arms race is that those who do not keep pace risk losing their ability to shock. Lost amid the tumult of the last few days has been an audiotape released by Al-Jazeera, which CIA analysts have confirmed contains the voice of Osama bin Laden. Apparently responding to remarks by Pope John Paul II condemning recent terrorist atrocities, bin Laden called the pope a "crusader puppet of the Great Satan, America."
When told of bin Laden's words, the feeble but still mentally sharp pope laughed and replied, "Is that all you got, Osama? Come on, you can do better than that, you camel-humping piece of s--t!"
The pope is reportedly feeling better than he has in weeks. n
Michael Compton is a Memphis writer.