Dubya's Faux Pas: One Ass----'s Take

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That unmagic moment: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in Naperville, Ill.

Politicians are supposed to think we're assholes — leastways, they should if we're doing our jobs, which seldom involves taking them at their carefully spun word. So while many in the profession have expressed outrage and disappointment that Governor George W. Bush on Monday inadvertently broadcast an aside to his running mate referring to New York Times scribe Adam Clymer by that epithet, nobody could really have been surprised. After all, it has been Clymer's job to compare the public image created by the Bush-Cheney ticket with both men's record — and the politician for whom such scrutiny is a comfortable experience is indeed an exotic species. The Gore campaign's comments about having nothing but the highest regard for the press ought, too, to be taken with copious amounts of salt — after all, the vice president was once an ink-stained wretch himself.

Of course, the real question is whether calling a respected member of the media corps a "major-league asshole" is going to hurt Governor Bush at the polls. After all, we should be grown-up enough to know that when Middle America today imagines a journalist, they're not picturing Clark Kent, or even Robert Redford playing Bob Woodward. The scandal- and infotainment-driven media culture of the '90s has certainly diminished the standing of journalists in the eyes of the wider American community, and chances are that Bush's gaffe might actually improve his image. But coming as the election season enters home stretch, it's another potentially troubling signal that the congenial aura his handlers had so successfully constructed for the GOP convention may be showing cracks.

The remark, to say the least, was an unfortunate, unscripted window into the personality of Candidate Bush — most damaging, perhaps, in that it suggests a tinge of anxiety. After all, whispering to a pal about "enemies" in the audience is the sort of thing a jumpy preppy might do moments before stepping up to the mike at a college debate. Governor Bush is at his most congenial when his ascension to power is assured, but the McCain challenge in the primaries showed that he's not exactly comfortable with spirited opposition. Politicians aren't expected to like journalists, but lashing out at them by name carries echoes of a certain Nixonesque paranoia. And that's not going to help the governor's efforts to cast himself as the custodian of a new civility.