Changing the tone

CHANGING THE TONE…. It was one of those moments that defined the Bush/Cheney era. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the leading Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, had been critical of Dick Cheney’s ongoing ties to Halliburton, but when he saw the vice president on the Senate floor in advance of an annual photo in 2004, Leahy thought it best to be cordial and professional.

But Leahy approached Cheney, arm stretched in friendship, the vice president famously told the senator, “F*ck yourself.”

Asked about the incident, Cheney later said he was pleased with himself for how he handled the situation, and said he saw no reason to apologize.

Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Cheney if, looking back, he has any “qualms, second thoughts, or embarrassment” about what transpired on the floor of the Senate. Cheney responded, with a smirk, “No, I thought he merited it at the time.” He added that he and Leahy, four years later, are now “civil” towards one another. What a relief.

Soon after, Bill Kristol noted how impressed he is with Cheney’s lack of regret, saying the vice president’s response to Wallace’s question was “a beautiful statement, really, of justice.”

Let’s remember, then, that if Joe Biden approaches, say, Arlen Specter or Orrin Hatch on the Senate floor, he tells them to go “f*ck themselves,” and then brags about how appropriate his conduct was, as far as some on the right are concerned, this is completely appropriate behavior for the vice president to engage in.

George W. Bush admitted the other day that he’s disappointed he wasn’t able to “change the tone” in Washington. If he’s curious where his White House went wrong, he may want to reflect a bit on his VP’s conduct.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.