News & Politics

Cursing at Least Safer Than Russian Bombing Jokes

Reactions to President George W. Bush’s saying the “S-word” to British prime minister Tony Blair were mixed:

Some defended him, some attacked him, others pooh-poohed.

This is not new territory for the former frat boy, who has been caught swearing many times. The fact is, Bush is following a long line of presidents who have uttered swear words in public. From FDR and Truman to the blue streaks of LBJ and then Nixon on the Watergate tapes, presidential cursing has become, however unseemly, a reality.

At a March 2002 Republican Party policy lunch on Capitol Hill, Bush said, “F— Saddam; we’re taking him out.”

The incident harkened back to when LBJ exploded during a meeting in which the Greek ambassador complained about American plans in Cyprus, saying, “F— your parliament and your constitution.”

LBJ might hold the record for the most creative use of expletives in the Oval Office. During an interview with New York Times reporter Charlie Mohr, Johnson chided him for questions he didn’t like: “Here you are, alone with the President of the United States and the leader of the free world, and you ask a chicken-s— question like that? Yes, yes, that’s right. You want to run that, you go ahead.” Mohr did.

“With close media coverage of presidents and the possibility of open mikes with a much greater range than was once true, it all comes together to bring us presidential cursing,” says presidential historian Martha Joynt Kumar of Towson University.

The greater use of wireless microphones has helped. In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democrat John Kerry was nabbed several times by live microphones. In Chicago, a microphone caught him saying of the GOP, “These guys are the most crooked, you know, lying group I’ve ever seen.”

More gaffes:

• In 1986, George W. Bush encountered reporter Al Hunt, his wife, Judy Woodruff, and their four-year-old son at a Dallas restaurant. Apparently upset over a Washingtonian poll in which Hunt predicted Bush’s father would not win the 1988 GOP nomination, the younger Bush said to Hunt, “You f—— son of a bitch. I saw what you wrote. We’re not going to forget this.” Hunt has said Bush was drunk. Bush later apologized.

• During the 2000 presidential campaign, Bush was unaware of a live microphone while talking to Vice President Dick Cheney. Upon seeing New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, Bush called him a “major-league a–hole,” to which Cheney responded, “Big time.”

• In 2004, Cheney encountered Vermont’s Patrick Leahy on the Senate floor. When the conversation turned heatedly toward Cheney’s ties to contractor Halliburton, the Vice President told Leahy, “Go f— yourself.”

• After finishing his 1984 vice-presidential debate against Geraldine Ferraro, George H.W. Bush did not know a microphone captured him talking. “We tried to kick a little a– last night,” Bush said.

• And in perhaps the most infamous moment in presidential gaffes, President Reagan in 1984, during a microphone check that he didn’t realize was being broadcast, said, “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”