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The Deluxe Election-Edition Bushisms: The First Term, in His Own Special Words Hardcover – Deluxe Edition, May 4, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 104 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; Deluxe edition (May 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743262522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743262521
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 5 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,699,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jacob Weisberg is the editor of Slate magazine and three previous editions of Bushisms. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction: The Misunderestimated Man

by Jacob Weisberg

The question I am most frequently asked about the Bushisms series is, "Do you really think the President of the United States is dumb?"

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is yes and no.

Dipping into this volume may leave the impression that George W. Bush is a simple dimwit. Let's face it: a man who cannot talk about education without making a humiliating grammatical mistake ("The illiteracy level of our children are appalling"); who cannot keep straight the three branches of government ("It's the executive branch's job to interpret law"); who coins ridiculous words ("Hispanos," arbolist," "subliminable," "resignate," "transformationed"); who habitually says the opposite of what he intends ("the death tax is good for people from all walks of life!") sounds like a grade-A, straw-for-brains imbecile.

If you don't care to pursue the matter any further, that view will serve. George W. Bush has governed, for the most part, the way a straightforward numskull of the Right would, undermining the fiscal condition of the nation, squandering the goodwill of the world after September 11, and allowing huge problems (global warming, entitlement spending, AIDS) to metastasize toward catastrophe while botching the major areas of domestic policy through a combination of ideology, incomprehension, and indifference. If Bush isn't exactly the moron he sounds, his synaptic misfirings offer a plausible proxy for the idiocy of his presidency.

In reality, however, there's more to it. The assemblage of a presidential term's worth of malapropisms, solecisms, gaffes, spoonerisms, and truisms -- drawn together here from the best of Bushisms old and new -- tends to imply that Bush's lack of fluency in English is tantamount to an absence of intelligence. But as we all know from experience, the inarticulate can be shrewd, the fluent fatuous. In Bush's case, the symptoms indicate a specific malady -- some kind of language-skill deficit akin to dyslexia -- that does not indicate a lack of mental capacity per se. To judge from the President's SAT scores (566 verbal, 640 math), his IQ is somewhere north of average. It's significantly higher than that of any number politicians respected for their wisdom, such as Bill Bradley (485 verbal).

Bush also compensates with his nonverbal acumen. As he notes, "smart comes in all kinds of different ways." The President's way is an aptitude for connecting to people, in part though his familiar use of nicknames, banter, and physicality. He charms people by remembering who they are and has a powerful memory for details and figures that truly matter to him, such as batting stats from the 1950s. Bush also has a keen political sense, sharpened under the tutelage of Karl Rove.

What's more, calling the President a cretin helps him in various ways. For one, it absolves him of responsibility. Like Reagan, Bush avoids blame for all manner of contradictions, implausible assertions, and outright lies by appearing an amiable dunce. If he knows not what he does, blame goes to the three puppeteers, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld. For another, it breeds sympathy. We wouldn't laugh at FDR because he couldn't walk. Is it less cruel to laugh at GWB because he can't talk? (Perhaps not, but we can't help it.) The soft bigotry of low expectations also means Bush is seen to outperform by merely getting by. Finally, elitist condescension, however merited, helps cement Bush's bond to the public.

But if numskull is an imprecise description of the President, it is not altogether inaccurate. Bush may not have been born stupid, but he has achieved stupidity, and now wears it as a badge of honor. What makes mocking this president fair as well as funny is that Bush is, or at least once was, capable of learning, reading, and thinking. We know he has discipline and can work hard (at least when the goal is reducing his time for a three-mile run). Instead he has chosen, for most of his life, to coast -- on name, charm, good looks, and the easy access to capital afforded by family connections. Christopher Hitchens described him perfectly when he commented during the 2000 campaign that Bush was "unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things."

The most obvious expression of Bush's choice of ignorance is that, at the age of fifty-seven, he doesn't know anything about policy or history. After years of working as his dad's spear-chucker in Washington, Bush didn't understand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, the second and third largest federal pro-grams. Well into his plans for invading Iraq, he still couldn't get -- despite the frustrated efforts of his briefers -- the distinction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, the key religious divide in a country he was then about to occupy.

Though he sometimes carries books for show, he either does not read them or doesn't absorb anything from them. In one of the Republican primary debates in 2000, Bush was asked what lessons he took from the experience of Dean Acheson and George Marshall, based on an Acheson biography he claimed to be reading. Bush's answer: "The lessons learned are is that the United States must not retreat within our borders. That we must promote the peace....In order promote the peace, I believe we ought to be a free-trading nation." In other words, all Bush got from the book was his own stump -- and stumped -- speech.

Bush's ignorance is so transparent that many of his intimates do not bother to dispute it even in public. Consider the testimony of several who know him well.

Richard Perle, foreign policy adviser: "The first time I met Bush 43...two things became clear. One, he didn't know very much. The other was that he had the confidence to ask questions that revealed he didn't know very much."

David Frum, former speechwriter: "Bush had a poor memory for facts and figures....Fire a question at him about the specifics of his administration's policies, and he often appeared uncertain. Nobody would ever enroll him in a quiz show."

Laura Bush, spouse: "George is not an overly introspective person. He has good instincts, and he goes with them. He doesn't need to evaluate and reevaluate a decision. He doesn't try to overthink. He likes action."

John DiIulio, former head of faith-based initiatives: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of policy apparatus. What you've got is everything -- and I mean everything -- being run by the political arm. Everything -- and I mean everything -- is being run by the Mayberry Machiavellis."

Paul O'Neill, former Treasury secretary: "The only way I can describe it is that, well, the President is like a blind man in a roomful of deaf people. There is no discernible connection."

A second, more damning aspect of Bush's mind-set is that he doesn't want to know about anything in detail, however important. Since college, he has spilled over with contempt for knowledge, equating learning with snobbery and making a joke of his own anti-intellectualism ("[William F. Buckley] wrote a book at Yale; I read one," he once quipped at a black-tie event.) By Paul O'Neill's account, Bush could sit through an hour-long presentation about the state of the economy without asking a single question. ("I was bored as hell," the President fired back, ostensibly in jest.) Insiders warned O'Neill not to send the President anything longer than two pages -- though in the Treasury secretary's experience, Bush read nothing at all.

Closely related to this aggressive ignorance is a third feature of Bush's mentality: laziness. Again, this is a lifelong trait. Bush's college grades were mostly C's (including a 73 in Introduction to the American Political System). At the start of the term, one year, the star of the Yale football team spotted him in the back row during the shopping period for courses. "Hey! George Bush is in this class!" Calvin Hill shouted to his teammates. "This is the one for us!" As governor of Texas, Bush would take a long break in the middle of his short workday -- for a run followed by a stretch of video golf or computer solitaire. Aides describe a fruit fly's attention span and a policy of zero tolerance for extended discussion.

A fourth and final quality of Bush's mind is that it does not think. The President does not like to hear debates about issues. Offered an option, he makes up his mind quickly and doesn't reconsider. At an elementary school, a child once asked him whether it was hard to make decisions as president. "Most of the decisions come pretty easily for me, to be frank with you," he replied. By leaping to conclusions based on what he "believes," Bush avoids contemplating even the most obvious basic contradictions: between his policy of tax cuts and reducing the deficit; between his call for a humble foreign policy based on alliances and his unilateral assertion of American power; between his support for in-vitro fertilization (which destroys embryos) and his opposition to fetal stem cell research (because it destroys embryos).

Why would someone capable of being smart choose to be stupid? To shed light on that question, it's necessary to examine George W.'s relationship with his father. This filial bond involves more tension than meets the eye. Dad was away for much of his oldest son's childhood -- on business trips, in Washington, and abroad. The oldest son grew up closer to his acid-tongued mother, and acted out against the absent parent -- through adolescent misbehavior, academic failure, dissipation, and basically not accomplishing anything at all until well into his forties.

Dubya's youthful screwups and smart-aleck attitude reflect some combination of protest, plea for attention, and flailing attempt to compete. Until a decade ago, his résumé read like a send-up of his dad's. Bush senior was a star student a... --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

It is good to laugh when we feel like crying.
B. Gallo
Now, even if Bush was articulate there's a thousand reasons why I wouldn't vote for him.
We liberals really CAN read well - sometimes we even understand the words.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

102 of 111 people found the following review helpful By MS on May 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
George W. Bush's verbal gaffes are both highly entertaining and extremely troublesome. Not since Ronald Reagan (well, actually Dan Quayle) has there been an American leader who has been elected to the nation's highest office despite his thorough mangling of the English language.
As in the previous editions of "Bushisms", Weisberg had his work cut out for him. He probably didn't have to do too much research to find plenty of material with which to fill the pages of this latest edition. And if Bush's public appearances weren't controlled to the extent that they are by the people around him, he would undoubtedly have even more material with which to fill several more volumes.
I'd really recommend reading Weisberg's preface to the book, which very astutely addresses the issue of W's alleged stupidity, in a way that I haven't heard expressed before. Weisberg states that it is not that W is inherently stupid, but rather he chose stupidity through a life filled with privilege and prestige. After all, when life has come easy, what incentive was there for him to think deeply about any issue or challenge any previously held belief?
In fact, when you look at W's life, it almost comically conforms to a stereotype of the spoiled rich brat who gets everything handed to him on a silver platter. However, I'd argue even further that W's problem is not one so much of stupidity, but shallowness.
Even his discovery of Jesus at age 40 with help of the Rev. Billy Graham - something that has endeared him to the born-again crowd - seems oddly superficial. As Weisberg states, Bush's old answer to hard questions was, "I don't know and, who cares." His new answer was, "Wait a second while I check with Jesus.
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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Lissa on June 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover
1. To the conservative whose review will appear a couple below this: This is a book review, not a place for your political treatise (though you seem to have lost the knowledge that the writer of this little gem isn't making this up - "the Shrub" really has said these things, ya' know). Please keep your ill - informed opinions to yourself, unless using the appropriate forum. We liberals really CAN read well - sometimes we even understand the words. And we don't use every forum we get our hands on to insult people not agreeing with us, unlike...
2. This is a funny book, truly.
3. I use the term "methinks" quite frequently, and I don't at all like what's happening with our country. So, I don't think it's that, really. :)
Thank you.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Larry Oliver on June 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
While most politicians make more than their share of 'misstatements', no one does it with more panache or better neologisms than W. While there are quotes that border on scary, generally this is the sort of silliness we could all use in an election year when we'll almost certainly get more verbiage than substance. And may the Higher Powers protect us from having pseudo-intellectual poseurs who use "methinks" in their reviews decide the 2004 election.
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44 of 53 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
W. is a living proof that democracy produces mediocrity. With American democracy we are getting extremely dangerous mediocrity.
This book should be a wake up call to all Americans, particularly to those 70% who are too lazy to vote! Please America, get a life, get an education, the world cannot be lead by morons!
Excellent reading. Strongly recommended.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mark Asch on June 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The Bushisms herein are hysterically funny, but also fascinating in what they reveal about how Bush thinks, and the things that he apparently does not know. It's certainly worth a read -- you'll find yourself sharing your favorites over and over. For your sense of well-being, though, I suggest you try to forget that he's the guy with the keys to our nuclear arsenal.

From time to time, my friends and I have engaged in imitating our president's, er, style. I recall when Bush finally admitted to having "miscalculated" when planning our post-invasion strategy in Iraq. I imagined he might make a statement like this:

"We may have misunderestimated the responsiveness our troops would receptively experience, which after all was commisserate with the disparaging between a nation guided by the Almighty, and cowardly killers that kill when faced by them, the troops, that is... um, by the Iraqis. Not all Iraqis... it's just that when we set out to do a job -- and I want to be very clear about this -- we did one, and if that means we have to take some militaristic action, I'm all for it, in terms of terror and what's necessary to disabling it combatively. I mean, if errors have to necessitatively be made with respect to our accuracy, then I'm all for it if, in the larger picture, the larger sense, I mean, when the questions of the future are asked about force and those who fought it in the name of peace, I will always, and I mean ALWAYS, say that I did, and I am very proud of every one of you to have representated the fight against it."
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Neocons_R_Idiots on September 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I used to laugh at Bush's verbal gaffes too, but seldom is the question asked, is there something wrong with the man? Has he fallen off the wagon? Is his brain fried? Mine would be if I kept up the party-boy lifestyle I had as a college undergrad until I was 40. Think about it, wouldn't your brain be toast too after decades of alcohol and possibly cannibus and poppi abuse? Consider, in the August 2004 timeframe alone, Bush:

> stammered some hysterically incomprehensible gibberish about tribal sovereignty to a group of native american journalists. Though it doesn't make for a good Bushism "sound byte" his incomprehensible, rambling, ad hoc answer was funny (there's a Quicktime video of this on the web...) Until you realize how remarkabley unprepared he was. His reply to a straightforward soft ball question also was offensive to native americans, who can actually be heard gasping in the background when his answer implied that native americans were "given" their sovereignty by the US government.

> Actually, really, said, "Our enemies will never stop seeking ways to harm our country and its people, AND NEITHER WILL WE!" durning a press conference where he signed a $400 billion plus dollar military appropriation. Doh!

> Last but not least, made a mega-freudian-faux pax on the campaing trail in front of thousands when he said something to the effect that... "we must not stop OB/GYN doctors from spreading their love of woman across the country." HA-HA-Huh?!

Bear in mind, these >all occured around a one month period<! Also consider that these gaffes come from professionally prepared, written speeches in most cases! All's he has to do is read off a frigg'n sheet of paper!
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