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.
Some outside observers found it ironic that members of the once-salty world of American journalism had become so delicate - recently issuing proclamations against profanity and urging greater sensitivity in newsrooms - while those who once criticized Bush for his cowboy ways longed for tough talk.
At a press conference, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld turned the tables and blamed the press for Bush's seeming lapse of manliness.
"If President Bush had said the Œs' word, you people would have gotten your panties in a bunch. Ew, a bad word, we're gonna te-ell. Then when he doesn't say a bad word, you have a hissy fit anyway. What is it you people want? Why don't you figure it out and drop us a memo?
"Because that's how real men talk, that's why. Because when a real man thinks about Hezbollah, he doesn't think about dookie. We know what Hezbollah is. It rhymes with Œspit' and you scrape it off your shoe, and we ought to scrape Hezbollah off the face of the earth. Same for Hamas."
Needless to say, Rumsfeld's remarks have been widely circulated - and poorly received - throughout the Arab and Muslim world. Asked if he regretted or wanted to apologize for his comments, he said, "No, I felt better after I said them."
Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, meanwhile, has gained new fans, including Sunni Palestinians, who admire his chutzpah in attacking the region's mightiest military power. When asked by an al-Jazeera reporter if he had a message for President Bush, Nasrallah replied: "Shiite happens."