Kathleen Parker

As the Middle East descended into chaos the past several days, the U.S. was reeling from President George W. Bush's off-the-mic remarks to British Prime Minister Tony Blair during a luncheon at the Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Believing his microphone to be turned off, Bush summed up his approach to the Middle East problem, saying:

"... what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this dookie, and it's over."

In the days since, American airwaves have been filled with commentators lamenting the apparent death of the old Bush. Where was his tough talk? His old swagger? What happened to President Bring'em On, Mr. Dead or Alive?

Even liberal bloggers expressed nostalgia for the tough-talking hombre who led a coalition of the willing into battle against the enemies of freedom.

"We liked him better when he was Hitler," wrote a contributor to the popular pro-Democratic blog DailyCuss.

"You'd never hear General Patton talking like that," snorted California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. "This is the leader of the free world, the commander in chief, for crying out loud, and he sounds like a girlie-man."

Others in the nation's capital were similarly distraught.

"How can we effectively fight a war against terrorists who murder innocent civilians when our point man uses words like Œdookie?' What kind of bull---- is this?!" thundered Sen. Hillary Clinton as she punched her clenched fist through a copy of the Specter-Santorum stem cell bill. "This is a crock of you-know-what, and I don't mean poo-poo."

At the Poynter Institute, a journalism school for professionals and a repository of media ethics experts who tirelessly debate issues no one else cares about, the mood was decidedly chipper. Presidents and other leaders who resort to profanity historically have caused problems for networks and family newspapers that try to cleave to high standards in an increasingly coarse world.

Given that profanity isn't permitted in most reputable papers, what does one do when the president himself utters an icky-boo? Is it really in the public's best interest to know that Vice President Dick Cheney, for instance, once suggested to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy that he have a romantic visit with himself?

Debate at the institute was characterized by relief that Bush seems to have cleaned up his frat-talk, thus saving newspapers from the troubling decision of whether to quote him accurately or edit him to protect public sensibilities.

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
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