I wonder how history will remember George Bush? If it’s kind it might find a little place for the things he said. I know of no other head of government who spoke to such perplexing effect.
Consequently, even when his actions produced tears, his comments were often greeted with smiles — wry ones at the time. But today, as we look back on his closing presidency, the amusement is more genuine.
The BBC has put together a collection of Bushisms with precise references to where and when they were first spoken. I find them hilarious. And very revealing. If you want to judge for yourself go to the web page tinyurl.com/827ny7.
But if you want an easier route, read on. Here’s a selection of the best of them.
Did you, for instance, know Bush was a great supporter of education? “You teach a child to read,” he once said, “and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” This was for him a truth beyond questioning. As he put it: “Rarely is the question asked: is our children learning?” In fact, he always maintained, as he pithily put it, “Reading is the basics for all learning.”
Amazingly, Bush was compassionate even if none of us ever found out. Listen to this: “First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren’t necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn’t mean you’re willing to kill.”
He also had infinite trust in the press, particularly when appointing his Cabinet: “I do remain confident in Linda [Chavez]. She’ll make a fine Labour Secretary. From what I’ve read in the press accounts, she’s perfectly qualified.”
And he knew how to judge people, particularly his predecessors: “That’s George Washington, the first president, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three-four books about him last year. Isn’t that interesting?”
Of course, Iraq was his downfall. But what’s surprising is the things he said about the country. They’re almost perceptive: “The vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world,” he said, and then immediately added, “We will find these people and we will bring them to justice.”
The problem, of course, was Saddam Hussein. This is what he thought of him: “The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein and his willingness to terrorise himself.”
But, astonishingly, he was also aware of his own limitations: “One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.”
Even though he was the most embattled president of recent times, George Bush was something of a visionary. He saw things the rest of us could not: “I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.”
At times, he was like Peter Pan: “Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream.”
On other occasions, he was more prosaic: “I understand small business growth. I was one.”
But there were times when Bush was a little confused. Usually Texas had something to do with it. Here’s one example: “I want to thank my friend, Senator Bill Frist, for joining us today. He married a Texas girl. Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me.”
And another: “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”
However, in political terms he understood himself better than anyone else. Even in his first few months in office he was able to say: “They misunderestimated me.” Then, as his confidence grew, he proclaimed with pride: “I’m the decider and I decide what is best.”
And by May 2008 he was positively cocky: “I’ll be long gone before some smart person figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.”
For all his eloquence, Obama won’t be the same.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to miss George Bush.