Now comes Fleischer telling New York Times readers he's being quoted out of context. The audacity of this claim commands respect, given the irrefutable sequence of question and answer.
Fleischer says his watch-what-you-say comment was directed not at Maher, but rather at "a Republican congressman from Louisiana who said that if he saw a Sikh-American with a towel wrapped around his head, he would tell the Sikh to get out of his state." This unnamed blowhard is Rep. John Cooksey, who retired from the House in 2002. Fleischer can't even be trusted to get Cooksey's bigoted comment right. Cooksey referred to turbans as diapers, not towels, and he said that Sikhs should be interrogated at random, not ejected from his state.
Now, it's true Fleischer had earlier been asked about Cooksey's outburst. He'd answered that President Bush "was very disturbed by those remarks." And as you can see, Fleischer did group Maher's comment with Cooksey's ("there was an earlier question about has the President said anything to people in his own party") when he warned ominously that people "need to watch what they say." But Fleischer's argument to Times readers isn't that he paired criticism of Maher's swipe at Bush with criticism of Cooksey's bigotry. Rather, his argument is that he was responding only to Cooksey's bigotry."My remarks urged tolerance and openness and were addressed to those who made statements and threatened actions against Muslims or Sikhs in America," he concludes. Although he acknowledges there was a question about Maher, he won't acknowledge that his answer had anything to do with Maher.
Fleischer's haughty command that people should "watch what they say" isn't even an especially good response to Rep. Cooksey's bigotry. In fact, democracy works better when politicians don't disguise their true nature. Cooksey's example is a case in point. He gave up his House seat to challenge Sen. Mary Landrieu. He lost, partly, Chatterbox assumes, because voters had learned from his diaper crack that he was stupid and mean. Cooksey is now reportedly considering a run for his old seat, and if he does his opponents will make sure to remind voters about his post-9/11 outburst. If Cooksey had watched what he said, he'd enjoy greater but undeserved political stature today. Aren't you glad he didn't?