WHEN THE DISCOURSE BECOMES ASS-BACKWARDS…. Is this really where the national conversation is going to go?

One of President Barack Obama’s staunchest Republican opponents said Wednesday that his now-famed “kick ass” comment was unpresidential.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that Obama chose his words poorly when he said “[I] don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar — we talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick,” in an interview with NBC.

“Right now, I think the president made a mistake in the words that he used in an interview yesterday,” he said in an appearance on KTOK radio. “I think that he lost a lot of credibility there when he used words that were not very presidential.”

CNBC’s Becky Quick said the president was wrong because there were “kids sitting around watching this.” Fox News has begun airing the president’s comment with the word “ass” bleeped out. (That Fox News has repeatedly aired the word “ass” without bleeping — it’s been part of Glenn Beck’s broadcasts more than once — apparently doesn’t matter.)

I don’t expect much from our political discourse, but this is just depressing.

It’s also rather new. Last year, the president referred to Kanye West “a jackass,” and no one seemed to mind. When talking about BP officials, suddenly “ass” is off limits for the nation’s virgin ears?

Where were these concerns during the Bush era? When Bush decided to launch the war in Iraq, the then-president proclaimed, “F**k Saddam, we’re taking him out.” Two years later, Bush was overheard chatting about Hezbollah with Tony Blair when the U.S. president said, “See the irony is what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh*t and it’s over.” The quote, which didn’t really make any sense substantively, was broadcast quite a bit. Inhofe wasn’t whining at the time about the president losing “a lot of credibility.”

Similarly, when Dick Cheney ran into Pat Leahy on the Senate floor for a friendly gathering in 2004, the then-VP said, “Go f**k yourself.” John McCain is known for constantly cursing out his colleagues, and in 2008, discussing immigration policy, McCain screamed at Sen. John Cornyn, saying “F**k you! This is chickens**t stuff.”

Maybe we can we just skip the debate over whether “ass” actually offends our delicate sensibilities?

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.