Monday, January 12, 2009

The real Bushisms

With the waning of the Bush presidency, it's a reasonable bet that we'll also see an end to the hunt for Bushisms. I can't say I'm sorry; the suggestion that Bush is uniquely unfluent, or particularly evil in the serial mangling of Old Mother Tongue, isn't very persuasive (Language Log approaches it with appropriately skeptical empiricism), and when the NYT proclaims that Bush invented a noun that the OED dates to the late 16th century -- well, just hand the Media Bias crowd a loaded shotgun, why don't you?

But in listening to the farewell news conference today, I heard something -- two somethings -- that do strike me as characteristic of Bush's speech. Here's the first:

I'm for a sustainable cease-fire. And a definition of a sustainable cease-fire is that Hamas stops firing rockets into Israel. And there will not be a sustainable cease-fire if they continue firing rockets. I happen to believe the choice is Hamas's to make. And we believe that the best way to ensure that there is a sustainable cease-fire is to work with Egypt to stop the smuggling of arms into the Gaza that enables Hamas to continue to fire rockets.

Sound familiar? Flash back to last year:
So when you want to talk about peace being difficult in the Middle East -- it's going to be difficult, but it's even made more difficult by entities like Hamas, who insist upon lobbing rockets into Israel, trying to provoke response and trying to destabilize -- even destabilize the region more.
(we're going to change questioners and skip four grafs here) ... But Hamas is -- look, when you're Israel and you've got people lobbing rockets into your country, you're going to take care of business. But you got to ask, why is Hamas lobbing rockets?

Or two years before that, without the repetition:
One thing is for certain -- is that when this force goes into help Lebanon, Hezbollah won't have that safe haven, or that kind of freedom to run in Lebanon's southern border. In other words, there's an opportunity to create a cushion, a security cushion. Hopefully, over time, Hezbollah will disarm. You can't have a democracy with an armed political party willing to bomb its neighbor without the consent of its government, or deciding, well, let's create enough chaos and discord by lobbing rockets.

I think Bush has been told that the Way Forward in political discourse consists of getting your phrase out there first and loudest, so that when people -- particularly the press, but also the people who write to the press and ask it not to be so horribly evil and liberal all the time -- talk about an issue, they do it on your terms. (More or less George Lakoff's explanation of framing.) But when Bush is improvising, he doesn't know when to stop, and he ends up sounding like Chatty Cathy. Here's another bit from today, this time about Hurricane Katrina:

People said, well, the federal response was slow. Don't tell me the federal response was slow when there was 30,000 people pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. I remember going to see those helicopter drivers, Coast Guard drivers, to thank them for their courageous efforts to rescue people off roofs. Thirty thousand people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through. It's a pretty quick response.

Could things have been done better? Absolutely. Absolutely. But when I hear people say, the federal response was slow, then what are they going to say to those chopper drivers, or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?

I really don't think he produces that sort of a statement by accident. I think he starts with a prime he wants to plant and can't bring himself to stop when the stopping's good. Other thoughts, ideas, comments?



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