"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that would outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."- President Reagan, while testing a microphone in 1984
At least he didn't call Russia a you-know-what.
The United States of America observed a moment of silence this week, as horrified Americans searched their souls to come to grips with the ethics-curdling event that occurred outside Chicago Monday, now forever known as "Black Monday."
In a place called Naperville, the unthinkable happened: a presidential candidate used a bad word. Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, believing nearby microphones were in the off-the-record position, pointed out to running mate Dick Cheney the presence of one reporter who will go named.
"There is Adam Clymer - major-league asshole from the New York Times over there," Bush said.
"Yeah, he is, big time," Cheney replied. Later Monday, Bush said he regretted the comment was overheard. It was a major-league, well, you know. But the damage was done. As it awoke Tuesday morning, the nation found itself asking itself some very tough questions:
Do presidential candidates really use this kind of language? Will this hurt Bush's chances in November? Is there such a thing as a Triple A you-know-what? Aren't all reporters "major-league" you-know-whats? And perhaps the most disturbing and nagging question of all:
In the name of all that is decent, who is Adam Clymer? (He once worked at The Sun, but there's no written record of his previously being called a you-know-what.)
Oh, silly, naive nation. Here are truths we hold as inalienable. Adults - even the big-time ones - use bad words. Reporters - even the big-time ones - are often called unflattering names by public officials. It's flattering, in a perverse way. "If they like you, you're not doing your job" is an old newsroom maxim.
Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, for example, was never overheard calling Sports Illustrated "my little snookums" after the magazine reported Rocker's nauseating riff on all things New York. (Come to think of it, Bush could have avoided his mess by choosing his epithet more carefully: "There is Adam Clymer - a major-league John Rocker ..." Everyone would have understood and accepted that. )
Bush is now in earthy presidential company. President Lyndon Johnson probably tossed around the a-word like teen-agers toss around the word "like." Harry Truman was no Mr. Manners, and did you hear the mouth on that Nixon? Like on those tapes? And does anyone really want to hear what Bill Clinton really thinks about the press? His bad words would give our bad words a good name.
And let's be honest. Isn't there a tiny part of each of us that would like nothing more than to tell the world that so-and-so is a you-know-what? There's a nice, rude ring to it.
It might not sound presidential, but it's major-league human.