Bush Anything But Moronic, According to Author
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on Thursday, November 28, 2002 by the Toronto
Anything But Moronic, According to Author
Dark Overtones in His Malapropisms
When Mark Crispin Miller first set out to write Dyslexicon: Observations
on a National Disorder, about the ever-growing catalogue of President George
W. Bush's verbal gaffes, he meant it for a laugh. But what he came to realize
wasn't entirely amusing.
Since the 2000 presidential campaign, Miller has been compiling his own collection
of Bush-isms, which have revealed, he says, a disquieting truth about what lurks
behind the cock-eyed leer of the leader of the free world. He's not a moron at
all on that point, Miller and Prime Minister Jean Chrιtien agree.
But according to Miller, he's no friend.
"I did initially intend it to be a funny book. But that was before I had a chance
to read through all the transcripts," Miller, an American author and a professor
of culture and communication at New York University, said recently in Toronto.
"Bush is not an imbecile. He's not a puppet. I think that Bush is a sociopathic
personality. I think he's incapable of empathy. He has an inordinate sense of
his own entitlement, and he's a very skilled manipulator. And in all the snickering
about his alleged idiocy, this is what a lot of people miss."
Miller's judgment, that the president might suffer from a bona fide personality
disorder, almost makes one long for the less menacing notion currently making
the rounds: that the White House's current occupant is, in fact, simply an idiot.
If only. Miller's rendering of the president is bleaker than that. In studying
Bush's various adventures in oration, he started to see a pattern emerging.
"He has no trouble speaking off the cuff when he's speaking punitively, when he's
talking about violence, when he's talking about revenge.
"When he struts and thumps his chest, his syntax and grammar are fine," Miller
"It's only when he leaps into the wild blue yonder of compassion, or idealism,
or altruism, that he makes these hilarious mistakes."
While Miller's book has been praised for its "eloquence" and "playful use of language,"
it has enraged Bush supporters.
Bush's ascent in the eyes of many Americans his approval rating hovers at near
80 percent was the direct result of tough talk following the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. In those speeches, Bush stumbled not at all; his language of retribution
It was a sharp contrast to the pre-9/11 George W. Bush. Even before the Supreme
Court in 2001 had to intervene and rule on recounts in Florida after a contentious
presidential election, a corps of journalists were salivating at the prospect:
a bafflingly inarticulate man in a position of power not seen since vice-president
Dan Quayle rode shotgun on George H.W. Bush's one term in office.
But equating Bush's malapropisms with Quayle's inability to spell "potato" is
a dangerous assumption, Miller says.
At a public address in Nashville, Tenn., in September, Bush provided one of his
most memorable stumbles. Trying to give strength to his case that Saddam Hussein
had already deceived the West concerning his store of weapons, Bush was scripted
to offer an old saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
What came out was the following:
"Fool me once, shame ... shame on ... you." Long, uncomfortable pause. "Fool me
can't get fooled again!"
Played for laughs everywhere, Miller saw a darkness underlying the gaffe.
"There's an episode of Happy Days, where The Fonz has to say, `I'm sorry'
and can't do it. Same thing," Miller said.
"What's revealing about this is that Bush could not say, `Shame on me' to save
his life. That's a completely alien idea to him. This is a guy who is absolutely
proud of his own inflexibility and rectitude."
If what Miller says is true and it would take more than just observations to
prove it then Bush has achieved an astounding goal.
By stumbling blithely along, he has been able to push his image as "just folks"
a normal guy who screws up just like the rest of us.
This, in fact, is a central cog in his image-making machine, Miller says: Portraying
the wealthy scion of one of America's most powerful families as a regular, imperfect
But the depiction, Miller says, is also remarkable for what it hides imperfect,
yes, but also detached, wealthy and unable to identify with the "folks" he's been
designed to appeal to.
An example, Miller says, surfaced early in his presidential tenure.
"I know how hard it is to put food on your family," Bush was quoted as saying.
"That wasn't because he's so stupid that he doesn't know how to say, `Put food
on your family's table' it's because he doesn't care about people who can't
put food on the table," Miller says.
So, when Bush is envisioning "a foreign-handed foreign policy," or observes on
some point that "it's not the way that America is all about," Miller contends
it's because he can't keep his focus on things that mean nothing to him.
"When he tries to talk about what this country stands for, or about democracy,
he can't do it," he said.
This, then, is why he's so closely watched by his handlers, Miller says not
because he'll say something stupid, but because he'll overindulge in the language
of violence and punishment at which he excels.
"He's a very angry guy, a hostile guy. He's much like Nixon. So they're very,
very careful to choreograph every move he makes. They don't want him anywhere
near protestors, because he would lose his temper."
Miller, without question, is a man with a mission and laughter isn't it.
"I call him the feel bad president, because he's all about punishment and death,"
he said. "It would be a grave mistake to just play him for laughs."
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