If Vice President Dick Cheney was planning to get an even-greater number of religious conservatives to vote for him and the president this time around, he’d better hope that they didn’t hear what he had to say to Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy.
After an annual photo-shoot session in the Senate chamber Tuesday, Cheney reportedly confronted the Vermont senator about comments he made concerning the Halliburton company (a company Cheney once ran as CEO) getting no-bid contracts to do work in the Iraq reconstruction and profiting from the war. Leahy reportedly responded by reminding the vice president about some conservatives calling the senator “anti-Catholic” for opposing the president’s judicial nominees based on their religious views against abortion.
Sounds harmless enough, until we get to the language the vice president used as a comeback to Leahy’s response. According to a number of sources, Cheney dropped what has become affectionately known as the “F-bomb.” Different reports have Cheney either saying to Leahy, “F— you,” “F— off” or “Go f— yourself.” Regardless of which statement is accurate, none of them is exactly the kind of thing you want leaked to the press.
Later, when questioned about the potentially embarrassing incident by Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, Cheney said, “I expressed myself rather forcefully, felt better after I had done it.” He did, however, add that it was not the kind of language he ordinarily uses, but that Sen. Leahy “is the kind of individual who will make those kinds of charges and then comes after you as though he’s your best friend. And I expressed, in no uncertain terms, my views of … his conduct and walked away.”
The vice president added, “Part of the problem here is that instead of having a substantive debate over important policy issues, he had challenged my integrity. And I didn’t like that. But, most of all, I didn’t like the fact that after he had done so then he wanted to act like, you know, everything’s peaches and cream. And I informed him of my view of his conduct in no uncertain terms.”
This incident isn’t the first time a curse word uttered by a member of the Bush administration has been reported by the press. On the campaign trail in 2000, then-Texas-Gov. George W. Bush was caught on tape referring to a New York Times reporter as a “major-league a–hole.” Later, leading up to the Iraq war, Bush reportedly interrupted a meeting by uttering, “F— Saddam. We’re taking him out.”
Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry, too, has been caught with a foul tongue. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, the Massachusetts Catholic also used the F-word.
But with the Bush administration it’s different. A large part of the president’s base consists of religious conservatives who don’t take kindly to such free use of language. Kerry already has a problem getting support from the “religious right” and doesn’t have much of a chance of gaining any of their votes any time in the foreseeable future.
To many religious conservatives, the use of such language is an issue of concern. Right or wrong, puritanical as some may view it, they prefer elected officials who refrain from what they view as crude and unnecessary language.
And it doesn’t help that White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters that, “It’s not an issue with the president,” or that Cheney said that several of his colleagues “felt that what I’d said badly needed to be said, that it was long overdue.”
The president has long enjoyed the support of conservative churchgoers. His positions on issues such as abortion and homosexual marriage have helped garner that much-needed support. His frequent statements on the importance of religious faith in the lives of Americans and in his own life have also helped him score points with the faithful.
This recent incident could have a minor effect on the support of the religious right for Bush and Cheney.
While the incident may not sway any of them to vote for Kerry or Ralph Nader, their willingness to turn up at the polls in November to reelect Bush and Cheney may be hampered by this unfortunate outburst.
Not to mention, it was just in bad taste.
Adam Fowler is a senior majoring in political science. firstname.lastname@example.org