“I hear the voices, and I read the front page and I know the speculation. But I’m the decider, and I decide what is best. And what’s best is for Don Rumsfeld to remain as the Secretary of Defense.” –President Bush, April 18
I wish I could stop over-analyzing everything President Bush says, but since his pronouncements so often require deciphering, I just can’t seem to stop myself at plain meanings. For instance: What on earth’s going on with his self-inflicted depiction as our fearless “decider”? A preference for Germanic rather than French suffixes? A penchant for verb-lers rather than noun-atives?
Aside from the odd, archaic locution of Bush’s latest positioning of himself as a verb wrapped in noun’s clothing, his anointing himself “the decider” is as grating to my ears as was the coinage of “Homeland Security.” It’s as goofily unmoored in American diction as were he to call himself “the choose-maker.” Maybe it’s a subtle point, but why would the President wish to be a decider rather than a decision-maker (or given the generative syntactical logic at work here, a “decisionizer”)? I suppose “decider” has an energetically active ring to it, like “the liberator,” or perhaps a (marvelously misplaced) little thrust of aspiration, like “the great communicator.” But it also has an absurdly blowhard-y corona about it, like “The Terminator.”
In any event, “the decider” doesn’t sound as though it means the same thing as “The buck stops here.” Nor does it sound like it means anything like “Commander in Chief,” which would have sounded positively constrained by comparison, to say nothing of impressively constitutional. Lord High Decider has a kind of folksy yet foreign force to it, as though a cumbersome little husk of deliberativeness had been removed from the job description to reveal a sleek Presider rather than a President. A head execute-er rather than our chief executive.
My worry is not solely about language. This Administration has circumvented the thoughtful, the consultative, the diplomatic with phraseology so twisted that one indulges the temptation to laugh at it as meaningless rather than to unpackage the purpose behind the mangled mots. During the third presidential debate with Al Gore, for example, Bush was asked where he stood on affirmative action. He responded by ringingly endorsing what he called “affirmative access.” One supposes that affirmative access could encompass some of the same notions as affirmative action, but it is not an existing legal remedy, it is not a known judicial concept, and it certainly is not a political notion with anything like a discernible consensus behind it. It was more than an artful dodge, I think; it was a refusal to engage as well as a refusal to commit.