Still More George W. Bushisms: "Neither in French nor in English nor in Mexican"by Jacob Weisberg
With signature remarks like these, it's hardly surprising that George W. Bush's malapropisms have become renowned around the world. Editions of Bushisms have become bestsellers in Germany,
"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."
With signature remarks like these, it's hardly surprising that George W. Bush's malapropisms have become renowned around the world. Editions of Bushisms have become bestsellers in Germany, France, and Italy, and they remain as popular in the United States as ever. Jacob Weisberg, faithful scribe, here presents the best of the latest crop:
"There's only one person who hugs the mothers and the widows, the wives and the kids upon the death of their loved one. Others hug but having committed the troops, I've got an additional responsibility to hug and that's me and I know what it's like."
"I'm the master of low expectations."
"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."
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This year, Bushisms went global. As the ramp up to the Gulf War accelerated through the summer and fall of 2002, our syntactically challenged president did nothing to disguise his disdain for the views of those countries known in his father's day as "the allies." The nations of Europe responded to this insult in kind -- by buying my book.
In the United States, this series has attempted to bridge the divide between Bush detractors (who laugh at him) and Bush supporters (who can laugh with him). All remain welcome. But there's no hiding that the recent vogue for Bushisms in ol' Europe is primarily an expression of hostility toward Bush II and Gulf War II. Having been informed just how little their opinions matter inside the White House, members of the European Community comfort themselves with the notion that its current occupant is -- let us not mince words -- a semiliterate moron.
That is not to say that the world scorns Bush in a uniform manner. Though the feeling that Bush is a fool is common throughout Europe, the cadences vary from country to country. In Great Britain, where Bushisms supply fodder for a seemingly endless number of newspaper columnists, the notion of an American leader who lacks fluency in English is taken as vastly amusing. The British see Bush as a hip-shooting cowboy, but somehow a comic one -- Dr. Strangelove, yes, but with some Bart Simpson thrown in. Having survived the Reagan-Thatcher romance, they are not unduly alarmed.
The French, by comparison, seethe. They take le président américain for a corporate lackey, an ignorant imperialist, and a Texan religious fanatic. And they blame all of us for hiring him. In this joyless spirit, a well-known French publisher agreed to buy the translation rights to George W. Bushisms, then phoned back to say he would not be offering payment after all, as he had found the same material for free on an American website (mine!). I have been filling Evian bottles with tap water ever since and serving it to my guests. So far, no one has noticed any difference.
As for the Germans, they appear alternately amused and horrified. Voll daneben, Mr. President! (Well Said, Mr. President) presents itself as both a joke book and a conclusive indictment. During the war, it shared Deutsch bestseller status with Bob Woodward's Amerika im Krieg (Bush at War), which presumably sold to more Rumsfeld-friendly readers. Much as I appreciate the sales, there is something intrinsically hilarious about translating these nuggets -- and even more hilarious about rendering them into German. Most read as if unsuccessfully translated from German in the first place. Which really came first: "Meine Aussenpolitik wird ausgewogen sein" or "I will have a foreign-handed foreign policy"?
All of these Bushisms are previously uncollected, but in a break with previous practice, not all of them are new -- uttered in the past year. While pulling together a 2004 George W. Bushisms Calendar (available near the bookstore table where you are Frenchily reading this without intending to buy), my helper David Newman unearthed some older gems that somehow evaded previous anthologizing.
This ongoing project has given me a paradoxical interest in both Bush bashing (foreign sales!) and Bush's reelection (volumes IV, V, and VI!). I continue to ignore such incentives and simply offer up what I find.
Copyright © 2003 by Jacob Weisberg
by Al Franken
Along with a whole pack of other journalists, Jacob Weisberg covered Governor George W. Bush during the long months of the 2000 presidential campaign. Every single one of those journalists heard Bush make one stupid remark after another, day after day:
"I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family."
"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."
"They want the federal government controlling Social Security like it's some kind of federal program."
Yet it was Weisberg alone who understood the commercial potential for collecting these idiotic remarks in the form of a small trade paperback book, the kind that could be kept by the toilet, and picked up now and then for a few moments of distraction and some surefire laughs.
This is the third in the series. Fortunately, for Weisberg, the president continues to have problems either forming ideas in his head or expressing those ideas when he opens his mouth. And so the Bushisms series has become quite the gravy train for Weisberg, a dream come true for any political writer, because it actually involves no writing.
In fact, it seems, I am the only one doing any writing for this book at all. And yet, when Weisberg puts together his curriculum vitae, it will include three international bestsellers. Yes, these books are popular not only in the United States -- and in places like Germany, France, and Italy, where Bush is considered an out-of-control cowboy -- but also in countries that made up the Coalition of the Willing against Iraq. Countries like England, Poland, Tonga, and the Solomon Islands.
And, as an American, that worries me to some extent. It is one thing to have the rest of the world believe that our president cannot be trusted. It is quite another for them to think he is stupid.
Because he is not. It has taken me some time to come to this point of view. You see, facility with language is only one aspect of intelligence. Bush, as I have come to appreciate, is a shrewd, if dishonest, politician who surrounds himself with like-minded advisers.
"Compassionate Conservatism." "By far a vast majority of my tax cuts go to those at the bottom." "No Child Left Behind" -- the most ironically named piece of legislation since the 1942 "Japanese Family Leave Act." All these in their way are as funny as any of the malapropisms in this volume.
And there may even be some method to Bush's seeming stupidity. Take, for example, when he told us during the 2000 campaign that he doesn't mind being "misunderestimated." Sure, this sounded crazily dumb. But maybe in his own way he was outsmarting us all. Maybe by "misunderestimated," he meant that he doesn't mind being underestimated for the wrong reason. It was okay that we thought he was stupid. Hell, that lowered expectations for the debates. What we were really underestimating was his capacity to fool us.
Take another example. "Subliminable." Remember how during the campaign he said "subliminable" four times after being asked whether a Republican ad had used the word "rats" subliminally? Maybe by saying "subliminable" so many times, Bush was himself using a subtle subliminal technique to give people the unconscious message that he was "able" to be president. "Subliminable...subliming-able...subliminably I am "able" to be president." Got it?
So, go ahead. Laugh at the dumb things President Bush has said over the past year or so. But don't be fooled. He's less stupid than you think.
Copyright © 2003 by Al Franken
Meet the Author
Jacob Weisberg is the editor of Slate magazine and three previous editions of Bushisms. He lives in New York City.
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