For readers of this magazine and millions of other Americans, the initial horror of September 11 was compounded by the sobering realization that George W. Bush would be at the helm for the aftermath. With a cabal of fundamentalists, crackpots and fascists whispering in his ear, Dubya became the world’s most dangerous weapon. Perhaps, we hoped, the rather low esteem in which he was held by the American people, the news media and much of Congress might save us.
No such luck. Congress and the mainstream media lined up behind him in lockstep. Instances of his much-vaunted ignorance wound up on the cutting-room floor. One cable network ran daily promos of Bush spurring on World Trade Center rescue workers, declaring that he had “found his voice” amid the rubble. Pundit Peggy Noonan declared Bush’s post-9/11 speech to Congress no less than “God-touched”; he had “metamorphosed into a gentleman of cool command…[with] a new weight, a new gravity.” Yet, despite the rise in his approval ratings, many harbored lingering doubts about the extent to which a “new” Bush existed.
Among the many critical viewpoints drowned out in the wake of the attacks was Mark Crispin Miller’s The Bush Dyslexicon, the first systematic critical examination of the President’s mistakes, misstatements and malapropisms. Fortunately, this clever volume has been reissued with updated material on Bush’s sayings and doings since that time.
Bush’s propensity for mangling the English language is no secret to anyone. No doubt we all have our favorites, which we’ve gleefully shared with friends, family, co-workers and comrades. Miller, a professor of media ecology at New York University, has compiled what is clearly the largest collection of Dubya-isms to date, among them these treats:
§ On his qualifications to be President: “I don’t feel I’ve got all that much too important to say on the kind of big national issues” (September 2000); and “Nobody needs to tell me what I believe. But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is” (September 1999).
§ On coping with terrorism and other threats: “[We’ll] use our technology to enhance uncertainties abroad” (March 2000); and “We’ll let our friends be the peacekeepers and the great country called America will be the pacemakers” (September 2000).
§ On Russia: “And so one of the areas where I think the average Russian will realize that the stereotypes of America have changed is that it’s a spirit of cooperation, not one-upmanship; that we now understand one plus one can equal three, as opposed to us, and Russia we hope to be zero” (November 2001).
Miller vividly illustrates the depth of ignorance–as opposed to stupidity–that leads this President away from direct contact with journalists whenever possible. Miller also demonstrates that Bush’s “problem” with language is not easily separated from his “problem” with policy and politics. If we focus exclusively on his stormy relationship with proper grammar and logical sentence structure, Miller argues, we risk underestimating what his presidency means for the United States and the world. “Our president is not an imbecile but an operator just as canny as he is hard-hearted…. To smirk at his alleged stupidity is, therefore, not just to miss the point, but to do this unelected president a giant favor.”