Bushspeak deciphered

Donald Kaul

May 28, 1992|By Donald Kaul

THERE'S A new book out that explains the secret of Ross Perot's amazing success in the polls.

It's called "Bushisms," a collection of some of the more memorable statements of the Bush presidency. After three-and-a-half years of Bushspeak -- mangled cliches garnished with freshly minted incoherence -- even a Texas twang sounds good.

Consider, for example, Mr. Bush's ringing denunciation of David Duke, the Ku Klux Kook:

"We have -- I have -- want to be positioned in that I could not possibly support David Duke, because of the racism and because of the . . . bigotry and all of this."

Kind of reminds you of Lincoln's second inaugural. Not!

And, speaking of Lincoln, Mr. Bush does. Speaking to a group of insurance company workers on the importance of prayer, he says:

"You cannot be president of the United States if you don't have faith. Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff. You can't be. And we are blessed. So don't feel sorry for -- don't cry for me, Argentina."

See what I mean? Every time he opens his mouth, Perot looks better. Hell, silence looks better.

The Bushisms were gathered by the staff of the New Republic magazine and offered in a thin paperback by Workman Publishing. It's not so much that they're hilarious. Incredible is more like it.

There's the "What did he say?" group, where you really can't figure out what he's saying. For example, his effort to defend his tax policy to an audience of business people:

"If you want to have a philosophical discussion, I take your point, because I think it is important that if we -- if you presented me with a hypothesis, 'you've got to do this or you've got to do that,' and I would accept it and understand the political risks that'd be involved if I showed any flexibility at all in even discussing it -- I would have to say that -- that a -- that you make a very valid point in your question, because as I tried to indicate in my remarks, it's job creation, and that is attraction of capital that is really the best antidote to poverty."

I think there's a capital gains tax cut in there somewhere, trying to escape.

Then there's the "He really didn't say that, did he?" cluster, made up of comments so stunningly shallow that they challenge one's credulity; as, for instance, when he visited the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1987 and said:

"Boy, they were big on crematoriums, weren't they?"

But some of the things he says are just plain goofy and resist all attempts at interpretation. He greets some foreign tourists in the park in front of the White House and struggles to work in a Chinese greeting, among other things, saying:

"Hey, hey, nihaoma. Hey, yeah, yeah. Heil, heil -- a kind of Hitler salute."

Or when he confuses his wife and his dog:

"It has been said by some cynic, maybe it was a former president, 'If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.' We took them literally -- that advice -- as you know. But I didn't need that, because I have Barbara Bush."

Mr. Bush is to English what carpet-bombing is to architecture.

Which also explains Dan Quayle. Remember his paraphrase of the Negro College Fund motto, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste?"

"What a waste it is to lose one's mind," he said, "or not to have a mind as being wasteful. How true that is."

Or his speech in Hawaii:

"Hawaii has always been a very pivotal role in the Pacific. It is in the Pacific. It is part of the United States that is an island that is right here."

He's the only politician who makes George Bush sound like Winston Churchill. No wonder he's vice president.

Almost 50 years ago the great British journalist, George Orwell, in his classic essay "Politics and the English Language," argued that the decline of the English language (which was being lamented, even then) was not a trivial matter. He wrote:

"A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier to for us to have foolish thoughts."

How true that is. And wasteful too.

Donald Kaul is a syndicated columnist.

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