I wonder what it’s like to be George Bush? When he stands up to say something profound, audiences either convulse with laughter or gasp with incredulity. It isn’t easy. You and I couldn’t do it. For instance, last month explaining the sectarian violence in Iraq, he suddenly asked: “Did I hear somebody say where’s Mandela?” And then answered: “Well, Mandela’s dead because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.” What he meant was never explained but the Nelson Mandela Foundation rushed to reassure South Africans that their former president is very much alive.
If Bushisms didn’t exist, it would have been impossible to invent them. Sheridan dreamt up Mrs Malaprop, Shakespeare conceived of Falstaff but only God could have created George W Bush. His utterances may be inept but they’re often unbelievably apt. They make a point in a way GB could never have realised.
Here’s a sample: “I’m the master of low expectations”, which has to be true. Or “I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree them” and I can’t say I blame him. Or even, “I’m the commander — see I don’t need to explain — I don’t need to explain why I say things” and he doesn’t. Finally, “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job” — that’s why they say to forgive is divine!
There are several Bushisms that hit the nail more tellingly than any speech or act of government ever could. For instance, decrying the poor state of education in America, GB said: “Rarely is the questioned asked — is our children learning? You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.” Talking about health care, he expounded: “One of my concerns is that health care not be as good as it can possibly be.” Excusing his failure to boost the economy, Bush claimed: “If the terriers and barrifs are torn down, this economy will grow.” But the winner is this opening comment as he got up to address a scientific conference about a flu epidemic: “I’m going to try and see if I can remember so much as to make it sound like I’m smart on the subject.”
Sometimes GB speaks in riddles and puzzles. You can fathom what he means although he clearly hasn’t said it. Try this: “For every fatal shooting, there were roughly three non-fatal shootings. And, folks, this is unacceptable in America. It’s just unacceptable. And we’re going to do something about it.” Here’s another: “I firmly believe the death tax is good for people from all walks of life and throughout our society.” And see if you can work out what he means here: “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.”
Bush often uses Bushisms to say things that otherwise are best left unsaid. For example: “I’ve got God’s shoulder to cry on. I cry a lot. I do a lot of crying in this job. I’ll bet I’ve shed more tears than you can count, as president.” Sometimes, he uses them to misrepresent himself: “I’m not a very good novelist but I’d make a pretty interesting novel.” But he does it to greatest effect when he’s dug himself into a self-made hole because he faces a question that’s left him stumped. What’s your biggest mistake, he was asked. His answer: “I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it … I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet … I don’t want to sound like I made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here and may be I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.”
But he can also be disarmingly honest: “I am a person who recognises the fallacy of humans”. He has all the experience that it requires!