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Hail to the Chief
I had the opportunity this afternoon to be part of a relatively small group who heard President Bush talk, extemporaneously, for around forty minutes. It was an absolutely riveting experience. It was the best I've ever seen him. Not only that; it may have been the best I've ever seen any politician. If I summarized what he said, it would all sound familiar: the difficult times we live in; the threat from Islamic fascism--the phrase drew an enthusiastic round of applause--the universal yearning for freedom; the need to confront evil now, with all the tools at our disposal, so that our children and grandchildren can live in a better and safer world. As he often does, the President structured his comments loosely around a tour of the Oval Office. But the digressions and interpolations were priceless.
The conventional wisdom is that Bush is not a very good speaker. But up close, he is a great communicator, in a way that, in my opinion, Ronald Reagan was not. He was by turns instructive, persuasive, and funny. His persona is very much that of the big brother. Above all, he was impassioned. I have never seen a politician speak so evidently from the heart, about big issues--freedom, most of all.
I've sometimes worried about how President Bush can withstand the Washington snake pit and deal with a daily barrage of hate from the ignorant left that, in my opinion, dwarfs in both volume and injustice the abuse directed against any prior President. (No one accused Lincoln of planning the attack on Fort Sumter.) Not to worry. He is, of course, miles above his mean-spirited liberal critics. More than that, he clearly derives real joy from the opportunity to serve as President and to participate in the great pageant of American history. And he sees himself as anything but a lame duck, which is why he is stumping for Republican candidates around the country.
It was, in short, the most inspiring forty minutes I've experienced in politics.Posted by John at 08:25 PM
Hail to the chief, take 2
On the heels of John's eyewitness account of President Bush speaking extemporaneously before a friendly group in Minnesota yesterday afternoon comes Kathleen Parker's column with her own eyewitness account of President Bush at an off-the-record luncheon with a hundred or so supporters. Like John, Parker was impressed:
What I witnessed was revealing. Not only was the man fluent in the English language and intellectually agile, he was knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects raised during a 90-minute Q&A. Someone apparently had been slipping intellectual-curiosity tablets into Bush's cola.Why? Parker has a theory:
Toward the end, one of the guests said, "Mr. President, I think if Americans could hear you speak the way you have today, you'd have a 95 percent approval rating."
I think that's almost true. Not 95 percent, obviously, but he'd surely have a higher than 30 percent approval rating were he better able to explain what he's thinking. Bush does know; he just can't seem to say.
My theory dovetails with something one of his most acerbic critics, columnist Molly Ivins, once wrote: "George W. Bush sounds like English is his second language.'' That's because it's true. "Washington English'' is a second language for Bush; "Texas English'' is his first.(I can relate.) During the Reagan administration, occasionally discouraged conservative supporters theorized that Reagan was the victim of misguided advisers and counselled "Let Reagan be Reagan." Taken together, John and Parker make a compelling case to explain the mystery of George Bush: "Let Bush be Bush!"
When he tries to speak Washington English, which is the way Bush thinks presidents are supposed to speak -- over-enunciating and sprinkling his comments with awkward aphorisms -- he fumbles. He forgets what he's saying because the thoughts and words are not his own.
This is also when his annoying sibilance kicks in. The "terroristsssssss," he says when "terrorists" would do. My guess is he over-enunciates to cover his prairie accent, but the effect is, well, sssssstrange.
Tapes of Bush as governor of Texas reveal none of the malapropisms for which he is now infamous. That's because in Texas, he speaks his native tongue -- dropping syllables and esses without fear of criticism or embarrassment. That kind of freedom seems to liberate the man's mind and his mouth.
Anyone who speaks before cameras knows the taste of humility and can relate to the agony of being George Bush.
Posted by Scott at 06:48 AM