Another Puzzling Bushism on Slate:


"My thoughts are, we're going to get somebody who knows what they're talking about when it comes to rebuilding cities." -- On how the rebuilding of New Orleans might commence, Biloxi, Miss., Sept. 2, 2005

What's odd, funny, mangled, or at all Bushism-worthy about this quote? Bush was asked how New Orleans should be rebuilt in the long term. That's a difficult and technical question, and one that's not easy to answer right now, especially when one is the President rather than a professional urban planner. So the President gave a perfectly sensible answer, and said that he'll figure out what the experts say. Here's the context (to Slate's credit, they now provide a link to the video, but here I quote the official transcript):

Q Mr. President, I realize the first priority is, obviously, saving lives. But let me ask you about long-term planning in New Orleans. There are some who are starting to say that since we're going to be spending billions in tax dollars to rebuild that great city, that we might want to think about building it in such a way where it's not below sea level again, whether it's somehow moved around or relocated or moved up. What are your thoughts on that?

THE PRESIDENT: My thoughts are, we're going to get somebody who knows what they're talking about when it comes to rebuilding cities. I'm going to delegate. I'm going to call upon the best experts, starting with the people of New Orleans, and get opinions as we work with the local folks. We're going to help people rebuild, Stretch. That's what we're going to do. And we're going to listen to people who know what they're doing. . . .

Why is this worth mockery or condemnation (presumably the main theme of Bushisms, as the column's compiler himself seems to suggest)?

David Barnett:
It's funny because Bush is stooopid, so when he mentions "somebody who knows what they're talking about", he's obviously not talking about himself because he's so stoooopid, ya know? And his stooopidity is exceeded only by his arrogance because he thinks he has all the answers -- well, except here, where he admits he doesn't -- but it's still funny because he's so stooopid, right?
9.15.2005 6:25pm
Who, exactly, has experience rebuilding cities? Nero? The mayors of Hiroshima or Nagasaki, circa 1945?
Maybe that's why it was funny.
9.15.2005 6:42pm
Tom952 (mail):
"Best experts" may refer to the offer of engineering assistance extended by "experts" in The Netherlands.
9.15.2005 6:47pm
TomH (mail):
Maybe he'll appoint Michael Brown. He seems to be out of a job. :)

It may be the idea of Bush making an appointment at all that seems humorous, espacially in light of the uproar of Mssr. Brown.
9.15.2005 6:50pm
Warmongering Lunatic:
Who has experience rebuilding cities, Redman?

Well, golly, I can't think of anyone. I mean, nowhere but New Orleans in the last 60 years has suffered severe hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, or the like.
9.15.2005 7:10pm
I think it qualifies for the reason hinted at by TomH: Bush has shown little but disdain for experts in the last five years, to wit:

1. Experts on nuclear weapons: they said Iraq had none. Bush disagreed and went to war.

2. Experts on morning-after pill: Experts say it's safe. Bush's FDA disagrees and delays yet again the approval of this eminently sensible therapy.

3. Experts on basic science: They say earth over 4 billion years old, and if Bible true, it's true as allegory, in the same way Animal Farm is true. Bush says nope; it's an open question whether earth has been here 4 billion years or 6,000, and students should be taught both.

9.15.2005 7:25pm
tumbling dice:
What lives you people have...
9.15.2005 7:46pm
goldsmith (mail):
As opposed to the non-stop excitement of the lives of people who spend time sneering at others in comment sections, presumably.
9.15.2005 9:24pm
Nathan Whitehead (www):
I think the humor is that Bush's statement implies he himself doesn't know what he is talking about with regard to rebuilding cities.
9.15.2005 9:40pm
ChrisPer (mail):
Or maybe its a bit more nuanced; the statement is a modest admission of fallibility in light of Brow's resignation. Let it speak for itself, no need to have a Three Stooges style line.

Perhaps if we allow the man to be a grown-up?
9.15.2005 10:28pm
Sean M.:
Actually, I think the claim is a bit more modest and less involved than those above might suggest.

The "funny" is that he's going to get "someone who knows what they're talking about when it comes to rebuilding cities" and well, it's pretty obvious that the person who will help rebuild the city should know about rebuilding cities.

So the "funny" is that the President can only say that he'll get someone who's an expert in the field. It's vague and not at all helpful? See?

Yeah, it's not good, but I think that's the "joke"
9.16.2005 12:03am
Tumbling dice: This is the Internet, of course we don't have lives.

If we were supposed to have lives, they would have programmed them for us.
9.16.2005 1:49am
markm (mail):
Sean: If stating the painfully obvious is funny, then our leading comedy channel would be a live camera on Senate hearings. Go to any of the VC posts where a Senator's question to Robert's was quoted. At least Bush kept it short.
9.16.2005 9:44am
It's even funnier now since he selected Rove to be in charge of reconstruction efforts.
9.16.2005 10:49am
Seamus (mail):
Maybe Jacob Weisberg thinks the Bush statement was goofy because rebuilding a city requires someone who knows what he's *doing* when it comes to he rebuilds a city, not someone who knows what he's *talking about* when it comes to rebuilding cities.

If I'm right, then it's Jacob Weisberg, by being so picky, who looks like the silly one, not Bush.
9.16.2005 12:04pm
Seamus (mail):
Oops, it looks like Sean M. made my point 12 hours earlier.
9.16.2005 12:05pm
Marco Parillo (www):
What is funny is that the President used a third person plural pronoun where he should have used a singular pronoun. Nobody ever makes that mistake; they are too smart.
9.16.2005 12:31pm
Crane (mail):
I think it's long past time for Slate's Bushisms feature to follow the Kerryisms into retirement. They're just not all that funny.

(Though the editors' choices sometimes were - remember the Kerryism in which Kerry's response to the question of whether he supported abortion rights was edited down to "Yes" and his entire explanation of his position on abortion was relegated to the status of "embellishment"?)
9.16.2005 12:39pm
I think, perhaps, the author of the Bushisms column enjoys your visits, and knows that entries like this one will keep you coming back for more - and even publicizing his work. (Just a guess.)
9.16.2005 1:11pm
I can't see inside Jake Weisberg's head, but Rove's role spearheading of the reconstruction effort was being reported before this Bushism. And, yes, it is painfully funny that Rove apparently fits the job description in Bush's mind. It's not exactly a Bushism, as it has nothing to do with mangling the language, but the implicit juxtapostion is worth making.
9.16.2005 5:09pm
randal (mail):
Oh Eugene, you need to lighten up. Ok I admit this Bushism isn't that interesting since it requires context to be funny. But I read some of your past Bushism posts... and I think you just don't get it.

The point is only partly, oh what a silly inarticulate president we have. Bushisms are funny because they're inarticulate in a totally unique way. They're endearing - I hate Bush but I'm gonna miss hearing him talk, like the way you miss your grandma's singular turns of ancient phrase that you can't hear anywhere else.

Have you ever tried to invent a Bushism? I can't do it. I'm a language buff and I'm sortof jealous of the idea of being a one-of-a-kind talker.

One of your examples from a while back is pretty good:

"In this job you've got a lot on your plate on a regular basis; you don't have much time to sit around and wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, 'How do you think my standing will be?'"

Not the best ever, but it's got some high points. He starts off making his case using a reasonable (but ultimately oddly mixed) metaphor along with the ever-so-slightly misused expression "on a regular basis," which connotes frequency over constancy (so that you get the image of him eating a lot) - all in the second person. Then he starts to groove on the second-person thing and throws in a little sarcasm on "much time" (which happens to retroactively justify the use of "regular basis" in two ways), then goes into the awesome juxtaposition of sitting around and wandering... which his mind seems to do as well into this image of presidential self-reflection to the point where he's "kind of" talking to the "different" pictures... and asks them a slightly ungrammatical question. But pleasantly ungrammatical, in that, not knowing what follows, asking portraits "How do you..." flows with the dream-like context better than "What do you..." You don't realize it's ungrammatical until you get to "standing," which jumps at you doubly since he's already been sitting and wandering (and eating). You realize he's talking about polls or whatever, but out of context, with so much about posture already plus the grammar of the question, you almost think he's asking past presidents how good he'll look at the next photo-op.

I swear, you may think I'm smoking, but his flubs are Bushisms exactly because they reveal an unusual - not bad - sense of language. Word choices are often wrong but usually justified by other oddities of whatever he's saying so that the whole thing comes out like you're listening to someone talk through a funhouse mirror.
9.17.2005 7:34am