Okay, I admit it: I'm beginning to feel sorry for President Bush.
The poor guy keeps wrestling with the English languageand
losing. I feel sorry for him because in my dotage I too find myself wrestling
with the language and losing. The difference is that I don't lose on
national television, and nobody really expects a doddering old retired English
teacher to make much sense anyway.
But we get antsy when our Presidentthe guy in charge of pulling
our national triggersays things he can't possibly mean.
At a news conference last Tuesday, he said he isn't worried about
Congress' reluctance to change Social Security because "Things don't
happen instantly in Washington. I've been around here long enough now to
tell you it's justand tell the people listeningthings just don't
And to show what he meant, he said this: "It's just like water
cutting through a rock. It's just a matter of time. We're just going to
keep working and working and working."
It makes you wonder if the President ever watched water cutting
through a rock. It takes centuries. Can't happen in three and a half
Okay, so he's exaggerating a little.
But it's as if he doesn't know he's going to be quoted
directlyor thinks Karl Rove can somehow edit his words after he's said
Or consider what he said a few minutes later about an Amnesty
International charge that the Guantanamo Bay detention cageswhere we
send people without trialconstitute "the gulag of our times."
The President said the charge is "absurd." He said "It seemed
like to me they based some of their decision on the word of and allegations by
people that were held in detention, people who hate America, people that
have been trained in some instances to disassemble. That means not to
tell the truth."
But the poor guy got it wrong. "Disassemble" is the opposite of
"assemble" and it means to take things apart. He meant "dissemble"which
does mean not to tell the truth.
It's the kind of mistake you might expect from a college freshman
or a senile retired English teacher. But the President is in his
50shis intellectual primeand holds degrees from Yale and Harvard. So
he gets ridiculed, not just for using the wrong word but for being
condescending to the reporters by telling them what the word would have
meant had he said the word he meant to say.
And others ridicule him for finding the Amnesty International
charge "absurd" to begin with.
Given the photos of how some inmates were treated at Abu
Ghraibyou remember the naked pyramids, the dog leasheswhy, the critics
ask, would the President find it "absurd" for some people to believe the
Guantanamo inmates were also mistreated?
The Truth, Mainly
The poor guy just can't win.
Vice-President Cheney has tried to help. He told Larry King last
week that "Frankly, I was offended
. For Amnesty International to suggest
that somehow the United States is a violator of human rights, I frankly
just don't take them seriously."
And Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers said the
A.I. charge was "absolutely irresponsible."
So you'd think that if the Vice President and the General don't
take the A.I. charge seriously, none of the rest of us should either.
But the generally conservative blogger, Andrew Sullivan, wrote
last week that "the evidence of abuse
is now simply indisputable
administration's essential defense now is that all the abuse was a result
of military insubordination, i.e. that it was not in control of its own
soldiers. So you get to pick between a deliberate legal choice of abuse
or incompetence on an epic scale. But if it was incompetence, why have
none of the architects been fired? In fact, they've been rewarded
next time a U.S. soldier is captured and tortured, we will have very little
credibility in complaining."
Even more seriously, the President's approval rating has fallen to
only 43 percent in the Pew Research Center poll and to 46 percent in the
But pleasedon't conclude from all this that the President lacks
compassion. He's come to the defense of Russian oil tycoon Mikhail
Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, who was convicted last month
of fraud and tax evasion and sentenced to nine years in prison.
"It looked," the President said, "like he had been judged guilty
prior to having a fair trial."
So how's that as an example of Christian compassion? And don't
give me that left-wing line that the Bush compassion follows only the money and
Just lay off. Okay?
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail