President Obama delivered a relatively edgy set at Saturday night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, which prompted a predictably gigantic fleet of conservative wahhhmbulances to spring into action. One of the jokes included the President wondering “What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?”, which prompted immediate pearl-clutching from conservatives on Twitter. As it turns out, though, Barack Obama isn’t the first president to use that particular figure of speech.
The full joke was “Look, I know, Washington seems more dysfunctional than ever. Gridlock has gotten so bad in this town you have to wonder: What did we do to piss off Chris Christie so bad?”
Asked if any other president had ever used the expression, I did what any enterprising reporter would do: I asked Mark Knoller, CBS Radio News correspondent and unofficial archivist of the White House press corps. Mark says he’s never heard it at a WHCD, but did uncover at least one other example, from a 2000 Joe Klein interview with then-President Bill Clinton. From the official White House transcript:
Mr. Klein. Can I say something that might piss you off? And you can even turn that off if you want.
Deputy Press Secretary Jake Siewert. We’re landing. You just don’t have to answer it.
Mr. Klein. When Lewinski happened, I was more pissed off at my colleagues and at the Republicans than I was at you. I’m sitting there, writing this piece, and I go through this whole section of the trench warfare, line-by-line battles that you’ve won against the Republicans during those 3 or 4 years. And all of a sudden, I get to Lewinski, and I got to say, I got pissed off at you. It doesn’t change the bottom line of the piece——
The President. I was pissed off at me.
So there you have it. As presidential profanity goes, “pissed off” is pretty mild, as George W. “Major League Asshole” Bush and Lyndon Baines “Every Other word” Johnson can attest.