Asking You for a Small Favor:

I wanted to ask my readers, of all political stripes, for a small favor. Can you please read the following Bushism of the Day (from today's Slate), and ask yourself: "What do I think is funny, ridiculous, inarticulate, telling, or otherwise noteworthy about it? What point do I think the author of the column was trying to make with it?" Please post the answer to one or both of these questions in the comments.

Please don't do research on this, try to find the context of the quote, talk the matter over with others, or read the other comments before posting your own. I'm genuinely trying to find out (albeit through a highly informal and unscientific survey) how people react to this item.

"Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of — is nine other presidents used it. This was given to us by Queen Victoria in the 1870s, I think it was. President Roosevelt put the door in so people would not know he was in a wheelchair. John Kennedy put his head out the door." — Showing German newspaper reporter Kai Diekmann the Oval Office, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2006

Please don't post comments other than the answers to the questions; I'll post more about this item later today, and you'll have plenty of time to discuss the matter further. Right now, I just want to gather people's reactions to the quote. Thanks very much for your help!

UPDATE: Thanks, got a lot of responses, which very helpful; comments on this post are now closed.

Without any context, I think this comes out grammatically inarticulate. There are dangling prepositions, and awkward sentence structure. And I have no idea what the last sentence is trying to say, or how it relates to the rest of the paragraph. What does a "door" have to do with anything?
5.23.2006 2:01pm
Larry Weintraub (mail):
I don't know what point was being made at all. My first reaction was to come here and see if you could enlighten me.
5.23.2006 2:02pm
The first "sentence" reads a little awkwardly, but I'm not surprised by that, extemporaneous speech usually does. H

aving not seen the desk in question, I don't get the bit about the door, exactly. I'm gathering that there's some photo of or well-known White House story about JFK crawling through it somewhere, but I certainly don't know what's going on without at least a picture of the desk.
5.23.2006 2:03pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
(1) Not funny, as usual.

(2) The point I guess was to make fun of Bush's inarticulateness, which here is not that different from anyone else's. (When you read depositions you've taken, you grow a bit humble about this kind of thing.)
5.23.2006 2:06pm
DJ (mail):
I guess the joke is that (without context) it makes no sense. Stuff like this: "Is nine other presidents used it"; "That was given to us by Queen Victoria [US?]"; FDR "put the door in [the desk?]." "Kennedy put his head out the door [whatever that means]."

I suppose the point is that Bush appears, well, kind of retarded with this quote. Of course it's unfair because he appears to have said this stuff whileshowing a reporter around the Oval Office and pointing items. But it's okay to be unfair to the President if it makes him seem like a monkey, right?
5.23.2006 2:08pm
Tish (mail):
Sounds like ordinary conversation to me - particularly for someone who is showing a reporter around. Lots of interrupted phrases, disjointed comments - if there was a video I am sure we would see the reporter pointing at things and asking questions.

Looks like they were at a loss for a Bushism!
5.23.2006 2:08pm
I don't really see what point is being made either. Without any context it is somewhat difficult to understand how President Bush jumped from point to point, but this is casual conversation, not prose. I suppose it makes him seem like a scatterbrain, but that is probably because we don't have any context.
5.23.2006 2:09pm
Sigivald (mail):
1) Nothing.
2) "Bush is dumb, ha ha."

My take: It sounds like any sort of typical showing-someone-something babble; it makes little sense if you're not there looking with them, watching what's being looked or pointed at, and so on.
5.23.2006 2:09pm
It is utterly baffling -- appears to be random sentences strung together: from the desk, to some door, with some random remark about JFK looking out the door.

My other reaction is that President Bush has paid attention to the provenance of his desk, and is correct that Queen Victoria was around in the 1870s. So much for the theory that President Bush knows nothing about history.
5.23.2006 2:09pm
Anon Person (mail):
Well, I think it was the comment about Kennedy putting his head out the door. It sounds a little bit like Kennedy literally removed his own head, and set it outside the door.
But it's the kind of mild "misspeaking" that most of us do many times a day.
5.23.2006 2:09pm
Other than grammatically the sentences don't make sense in print, like they might if it was a full oral conversation -- where you combine sentences and add pile phrases on top of each other and no problem, it'd be hard to diagram in print, but easy enough to follow the gist in conversation...

I sense this material was chosen for the funny sexual undertones. Queen Victoria ... Kennedy sticking his "head" out ... We live in coarse times, and this is a common lowest denominator appeal to sexual immaturity in a heh-heh way. Maybe Slate's going for the 18-25 demographic, and the wannabe's
5.23.2006 2:10pm
The quote, on paper, looks clunky, and begins with three phrases none of which comprise a sentence.

As is often the case with a transcribed statement, this looks a little silly when read instead of heard as part of a conversation. Maybe in person the Kennedy line made more sense.

Your point, as I take it, is a good one: if the speaker were most anybody else, the quote would be utterly unremarkable (and probably never printed).
5.23.2006 2:10pm
I don't know what is funny about this quote, but the man does speak as if he is taking ESL courses.
5.23.2006 2:10pm
eddie (mail):
A. Here is the president trying to give a reporter some sort of tour of the White House and he is incapable of making one coherent sentence or relating one piece of relevant history.

B. Why bring up Roosevelt and Kennedy, and especially since he seems to be making an attempt to show how they were . . . dare I say, unpresidential?

C. Professor, if a student in one of your classes strung these words together in front of you, would you have any hope that this person could actually become a decent lawyer (let alone president)? Would you simply let them go as the words of a fallible youth in a stressful situation?

If a man's words cannot be understood or simply are a string of non-sequitors, isn't that cause for concern?

Whether there is context or not, this quote followed the previous quotes you have recently thought were worthy of review. In sum they show a man who adopts a condescending "teacherly" pose and then goes on to expose himself as a complete idiot.
5.23.2006 2:11pm
I note some poor grammar, particularly in the first sentence. I guess perfection is always required, even when giving tours. I haven given tours, and unless scripted, it sometimes becomes ackward trying to add in trivial information about what is being shown.

I got the issue about the door. As for JFK, I recall something about him crawling underneath a desk for some photo shoot. If these are German journalist, they might recall that as well, and thus have something to recall the history of the desk.

Again, the only issue I find in the quote is poor grammar. Otherwise, writing about journalist getting a personalized tour of the White House from the President is fairly boring.
5.23.2006 2:11pm
The first and second sentences seem completely unremarkable.

I don't understand the third and fourth sentences at all, though. How does a door (door to what? the desk? the room?) obscure that Roosevelt used a wheelchair? And what does "put his head out the door" mean?

It seems to me that Bush's explanations were kind of strange and, um, unexplanatory. Maybe the rest of the quotation will make it more explicable. (Is "unexplanatory" a word? Well, if EV thinks "impactful" is a word, then I'll go with unexplanatory.)
5.23.2006 2:12pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
It's inarticulate. Nobody ever suspected Bush of having sharpened his public speaking style in something like the Oxford Union.

It's inconsequential.

I infer from this and other posts that you're on a crusade against Slate's collection of Bush hadiths. Slate is silly. Not worth your time.
5.23.2006 2:12pm
I think it's trying to show a certain disjointedness of diction... turned-around phrases and such. But even reading it, it's obvious that the President is in the Oval Office, talking to someone, and pointing things out to them. And that's the way you talk when you point things out to someone - the physical action creates natural pauses that even out the flow.
Too, this is clearly colloquial speech, in which the occasional article or even noun is occasionally dropped while it is supposed to be obvious from context. It's alsopossible that a word or two has been dropped from the recording due to speed of speech, and that would even things out quite a bit as well.
5.23.2006 2:12pm
I have no idea what is supposed to be funny about it. Frankly, it's practically incoherent. Was that the point?
5.23.2006 2:13pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Is this about Kennedy playing under the desk? I don't know. I'd need explanation.
5.23.2006 2:13pm
Is it that he should have said JFK Jr.? I think he's talking about that famous picture of JFK Jr. sticking his head out of that door at the bottom of the desk as his father worked behind it. I guess if you never saw a picture of the desk, it is unclear what he's talking about.
5.23.2006 2:14pm
John McG (mail) (www):
1. Nothing, assuming it was extemperaneous speaking rather than prepared statements.

a. "Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of " -- ending aclause with a preposition is condsidered bad form.
b. "is nine other presidents used it." -- Not a grammatical constuct, but could be incorrect transrption.
c. "President Roosevelt put the door in so people would not know he was in a wheelchair. John Kennedy put his head out the door" -- could be read that the antecedent to "his" in the second sentence is "Roosevelt," which would make the sentence ridiculous.

I guess the point was that Bush is inarticulate and ungrammatical when speaking extemperaneously.
5.23.2006 2:14pm
anonymous coward:
The royal "us." The other quotes from this interview have been much funnier to me, though.

Why do you assume Slate is trying to make a specific point with the Bushisms? Were people who made fun of Bush the Elder (who mangled speech at times worse than his son) making a point about how stupid that Bush was? Mocking the speech of the powerful does not strike me as unusual or suspicious activity requiring explanation.
5.23.2006 2:14pm
My reaction is 'so what' or 'what's the point'? Sounds like the President is giving a tour, gesturing, etc. It probably made sense to whoever he was explaining this to, but I don't care. I don't look for fault in everything the man says.
5.23.2006 2:15pm
Mark Hagerman (mail):
Well, my first reaction is distaste for whoever is quoted...GWB, I assume, though that's not a given. Such incoherence indicates mental laziness, or perhaps a mental defect.
5.23.2006 2:15pm
Jeff R.:
Apart from an extraneous 'is', I don't see anything all that remarkable. Although I couldn't help reading the Roosevelt and Kennedy lines as a parallel construction, and finishing the latter with " people wouldn't know he wasn't wearing pants."
5.23.2006 2:15pm
I think Bush is referring to JFK Jr., not the assassinated President:

5.23.2006 2:16pm
Yamamoto (mail):
Besides the halting and starting a new train of thought that is typical of Bushspeak, the transcript has a dash placed at a position that makes the sentence far more unclear than obviously spoken.
5.23.2006 2:16pm
Moshe (mail):
As written, it appears to be incoherent and nonsensical. I assume that was the author's point.
5.23.2006 2:17pm
David A. Smith (mail) (www):
It's the phrase "John Kennedy put his head out the door," which aside from its grammatical incongruity, appears not to make sense in the abstract.

If the *setup* was the existence of a bust of Franklin Roosevelt, which was then placed outside the door, then the quote would make sense, and rob the Bushism of its apparent disjointedness.

In other words, I am positing that stripping the post of its context (a) eliminates the inflection that enables listeners to parse conversation, and (b) omits logical connectors. Ergo, if I'm right, then it's Proxmiring (named for Senator William Proxmire, that is the art of making something look ridiculous by selectively decontextualizing it).
5.23.2006 2:17pm
It only makes sense if you know the history of the "Resolute" Desk:

Otherwise, I have no insight into why the quote was selected. It strikes me as a strange quote to take out of context.
5.23.2006 2:17pm
pp (mail):
He did not address Kennedy as President Kennedy, rather as John Kennedy. Also he didn't specify which Roosevelt which would be the appropriate time to use a presidents first name.
5.23.2006 2:18pm
Steve Rosenbach (www):
The "Bushism" only seems odd or funny out of context, that is, not knowing what's being spoken about.

I'm old enough to remember exactly what the President was referring to - it's a large desk with a "door" or movable partition in what would normally be called the "privacy panel" of the desk.

The only "funny" thing about the post is that the President probably meant to say "John-John Kennedy" or "JFK Jr." I can picture the photo from a 1963 edition of "Look" magazine - 2-year-old John-John, with a quizzical look on his face, poking his head out from under the desk - JFK himself was sitting at the desk, going through some papers - maybe he was aware of what John-John was doing-he had a little smile on his face.
5.23.2006 2:18pm
He was probably pointing things out as he went. In fact, I'd bet there are a lot of ellipses in this quote, not to mention stage directions not mentioned.
5.23.2006 2:18pm
Let's see, I guess that first sentence is mangled, but pretty much like how anyone would speak on the fly. The "door" thing didn't make sense to me until I figured it was a door in the desk. it's not funny, but a bit stumbling I guess. Not noteworthy though.
5.23.2006 2:20pm
Erick R (mail):
I believe Bush is talking about this famous photo of John Kennedy Jr. when he refers to the door.

In my view, there's nothing remarkable about this statement from Bush, given how it's seemingly him giving a brief tour of the Oval Office in a somewhat stream of consciousness way. I'd bet he was bored or distracted at the time and was running through the highlights half-heartedly. I doubt someone as articulate as Clinton always speaks in perfect, complete sentences. To me, this just shows that spoken conversations don't always make sense when transcribed.

But in Slate's view, I would guess, it shows that Bush is stoooopid and should be hated.
5.23.2006 2:20pm
AppSocRes (mail):
President Bush speaks like the rest of us and has more knowledge of history than some of the history professors at the school where I occassionally teach; one of whom once wrote an op-ed piece in the Boston Globe based entirely on his misapprehension that Samuel Adams played a major role in writing the Declaration of Independence. Also, it seems probable that this post has raised by some non-negligible amount the average IQ of those making hits on Slate, however brief the effect may be.
5.23.2006 2:22pm
Nathan Jones (mail):
"What do I think is funny, ridiculous, inarticulate, telling, or otherwise noteworthy about it?"

I do not find the quote funny, telling, or noteworthy. It is, somewhat, inarticulate. Specifically, the transition from "in front of" to "nine other" and then back to "was given" is awkward. The "I think it was" is also not a very graceful addendum to his statement about the gift. Overall, however, it is not much worse than things I have said or heard from others in casual conversation. (This is also why it isn't really "telling" since many people speak in a similarly inarticulate manner).

The "put his head out the door" does seem ridiculous, but I think it may be more due to editing more than Bush's speech. What, after all, is the next sentence?

So, if I had to choose one option for the survey I would say "inarticulate." If I had to rank-order I would say "inarticulate" followed by "funny" and then "ridiculous" and then "otherwise noteworthy" and then "telling."

What point do I think the author of the column was trying to make with it?"

Explicitly: Bush has a confused train-of-thought. Implicitly: Bush is an idiot.
5.23.2006 2:22pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
The first sentence seems to me to be a case of the speaker approaching the end of the sentence without knowing quite how to finish it. That's quite common, as other posters have noted. There's nothing remarkable about the second. The third lacks some context. I think that what the President was saying is that FDR located the door to the office in such a manner that those entering would not see his wheelchair. The context was probably there when the President was speaking, however.

The fourth sentence represents an abrupt transition, and includes a pronoun ("his") without a clear antecedent. Was it FDR's head that JFK put out the door, or his own (or perhaps somebody else's)? If JFK was simply putting his head out the door, was he greeting people? Trying to keep them from entering the office? Or was it JFK, Jr., in the well-known photograph?

I really don't know what point the author of the piece was trying to make. The only person I know who, in normal conversation, uses impeccable grammar is William F. Buckley.
5.23.2006 2:23pm
Immediate reaction: it's mildly amusing, but derogatory only if one's mindset is that Mr. Bush is inherently stupid and unable to express a coherent thought.

It's amusing in the same way that classic verbal incoherence or word misplacement from nervous or hurried speakers are amusing, ie: "It's a pidgeon, Mr. Pleasure".

It is likely that in the actual event context Mr. Bush's words would not be perceived as anything more than those of someone nervously giving a quick "show-tell" tour to yet another visitor who turned up on the day's schedule.

The line "John Kennedy put his head out the door" is humorous in the context of the otherwise coherent description of FDR's modification of the desk. It allows interpretation by the reader that Mr. Bush is making some sort of ineffable political or historical comparison of the two former presidents, using the desk and its modifications as a metaphor for their actions in office.

Evidence of nervousness or distraction in a social situation? Yes. Evidence of presidential incompetence? No.

And I don't even particularly like the guy.
5.23.2006 2:24pm
I don't know what kind of "casual conversations" other people have, or what kinds of tours they give, but I can't remember anyone ever saying anything as incoherent as "Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of -- is nine other presidents used it," and it certainly doesn't happen on a regular basis. (Maybe it does, but my brain just screens it out into something coherent? I read a fair amount of transcripts, though, and stuff that incoherent is quite rare.)

I'm guessing the comments about the door, however, would be clarified quite a bit by context (or by an image). I assume the door is something built into the bottom of the desk, perhaps, to obscure the legs of the person sitting behind it; maybe Kennedy crawled out through it famously? That just seems like silly trivia and hardly a sign of stupidity (except to the extent that it may indicate an insensitive assumption that the other person knows what you're talking about, but that's a stretch).

I don't know why they didn't cut the quote after the first sentence.
5.23.2006 2:25pm
Without reading any other comments yet . . .

I'd guess the "funny" phrase is supposed to be "John Kennedy put his head out the door." But I just find it confusing, since I don't know anything about either the "door" in question or the JFK event in question.
5.23.2006 2:26pm
The part about the door is insufficiently descriptive to convey much without the associated visual of (I guess) the desk. Of course, presumably Bush did have a handy visual aide nearby at the time.

What appears to be a possible use of the Soverign Royal "We/Us" seems odd, but that may not have been the intent, and might even be technically correct under the circumstances; ask a protocol expert.

Other than that... it's not an overly articulate quote, but neither is it spectacularly bad, either. I often babble similarly in person (I'm much more articulate in writing). I suspect it's the equivalent of a "slow news day" piece; they didn't have anything better to run in the slot.
5.23.2006 2:28pm
Other than the "is" in the first sentence, the rest of it makes sense (given the context... the president showing an item that we, the readers, cannot see).
5.23.2006 2:28pm
Armen (mail) (www):
Well clearly a lot of the agove comments have pointed out a lot of the things wrong with the quote (piss poor grammar, John Kennedy sticking his head instead of JFK, Jr., etc.) But I also want to add that even if we ignore the 1870s bit, there have been 12 presidents from FDR to the present, not nine. Maybe only nine of have used it...moral of the story is, an intern could have explained the history of that desk more coherently.
5.23.2006 2:29pm
Alan P (mail):
It was gramatically poor as spoken language often is but there was nothing particualrly funny or stupid about it
5.23.2006 2:32pm
Mike Keenan (mail):
I recalled the story about the door on the desk and Roosevelt, but I wasn't sure about the comment about John Kennedy and why he would have his head out the door. I thought maybe he had put a carving of some sort of himself "on" the door and that the president had been misquoted.

I didn't think there was anything funny or otherwise exceptional about this paragraph. Maybe a little inarticulate because he stops and restarts after the word "is" but that is a perfectly normal speech pattern. We all do it. This "Bushism" nonsense stems from a visceral hatred of the president. I have a hard time watching him deliver a speech, but in a 1-on-1 setting like this interview he is very effective.
5.23.2006 2:32pm
anonymous VC loyal:
My first reaction was that the quoted matter showed a poor use of grammar--but then, I'm a word geek, so that's usually what I see first. I don't think the quote is necessarily noteworthy. The President is talking about the history of his desk, which is rather unimportant. I think perhaps the person relating the quote was trying to indicate Mr. Bush was uncomfortable and had nothing important or very interesting to say to the German reporter. Again, not necessarily noteworthy.
5.23.2006 2:33pm
Jared K.:
Apologies for any repetition, as I have not read any of the other comments, but the funniest part for me is the outright incoherence of the first sentence. "Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of -- is nine other presidents used it."

I'm 21, and if one of my friends said a sentence like this, I'd assume he was drunk. Even if he was, I'd still probably make fun of him for saying it. Weisberg (and I) simply want to hold the leader of the free world to at least the same standard as an intoxicated college student.

As for the rest of it, it sounds a bit disjointed, but I'm willing to assume he was pointing at different things as he spoke or that other nonverbal cues were important. Mainly I take issue with the first sentence.
5.23.2006 2:33pm
Alan P (mail):
I realized, after lookng at the comments, (sorry) he was likely referring to the famous picture of John Kennedy, Jr. looking out of the desk from underneath at his father's feet. Apparently, there was some door in that space.
5.23.2006 2:36pm
Now clicking through the link above and seeing the picture, everything makes sense. The only problem with the quote is that Bush did did not make it clear that he was referring to the famous photo of John Kennedy. However, if you understood he was referring to the photo, it would NOT be necessary to use "John F. Kennedy, Jr." instead of "John Kennedy", since that would be clear.
5.23.2006 2:36pm
I think the "door" is something that is attached under the desk so you can't see the feet and legs of the president when he is sitting by his desk. So nobody could see that Roosevelt was actually sitting in a wheelchair.

5.23.2006 2:37pm
David C. (www):
without context, hard to follow. It comes off as inarticulate, but assuming he is giving some instruction or commentary on the furniture, I have no clue why this would rate as a "bushism"
5.23.2006 2:37pm
I assume it was John Kennedy Jr. I was born in 1964, so the Kennedy administration is ancient history to me, but I do remember a picture from that time that has young Jr. poking his head through the desk. Presumably that is what Bush was referencing.
As to the rest of it, perhaps Slate was demonstrating that Bush tends to stumble over his words when he talks. For that I must thank Slate. Six years of him being president plus the campaign before, and I never knew that Bush could be inarticulate at times.
5.23.2006 2:38pm
John M (mail):
Yes, I thought it was funny. There was a little nonsense at the beginning, with the "is" rendering the first sentence incomprehensible. The part that made me laugh out loud, however, was "John Kennedy put his head out the door." Now, I presume that Bush is talking about the famous photo of JFK, Jr. playing under the desk while his father worked. But for an instant, I had an image of President Kennedy sticking his head through the door, and I laughed.

I generally agree with you about the uselessness and sometimes unfairness of the Bushisms, but I enjoyed this one.
5.23.2006 2:39pm
Bryan DB:
Without getting too much into the grammar, it's reasonably worse than what my 5-year-old regularly does. The first sentence makes no sense. The desk wasn't given to "us" (as in, "the Bushes") in the 1870s, but I can kind of give that one a pass. It reads just generally crappy.
Anyone that says this sounds normally conversational, even for someone showing another person around their home, doesn't have a good sense of normal conversation.
5.23.2006 2:39pm
It's not really funny other than the awkward prepositional phrase. I get what he was saying — the desk had a door-like panel put on the opening to hide FDR's wheelchair, and Kennedy stuck his head out that opening in a photo.
5.23.2006 2:39pm
anonymous VC loyal:
One note, which I neglected to add before. I remember seeing a picture years ago of President Kennedy playing with his son in the Oval Office, and he was on the floor, sticking his head out the "door" that fronts the desk. President Roosevelt, if I remember correctly, did in fact have that door installed on the desk so people wouldn't see his wheelchair. Our current President's comments don't appear as disjointed to me as they would seem if I didn't remember the Kennedy picture.
5.23.2006 2:39pm
One other point I'd make is that I don't find the first sentence incoherent at all. It seems to me that it is actually two sentences, the first of which was unfinished, that were incorrectly run together by the transcriber. I assumed that he actually said: "Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of is...[pause - begin new sentence] Nine other presidents used it." He didn't finish the first sentence because he wanted to state the thought in another manner, which seems to me to be completely normal.
5.23.2006 2:42pm
Thief (mail) (www):
He's just talking about the history of the "Resolute Desk," which is the desk president's have traditionally used. And it sounds like he did get the details right:

-it was given to the US by Queen Victoria (it was made out of the timbers of the HMS Resolute, a British ship rescued from an ice floe by US Navy Ships)
- FDR had the front panel, which swings outward, installed to hide the fact that he was in a wheelchair
- 3-year-old John Kennedy Jr. (son of JFK) was known to crawl underneath the desk, there are several pictures of him peeking out from underneath the desk at photographers while his father worked.

Just remember: Anything spoken impropmptu, with the right punctuation, can be used to make the speaker sound like a blithering idiot.

P.S. Besides FDR, one other president modified the Resolute Desk. Which one, and why?
5.23.2006 2:42pm
Closet Libertarian (www):
I agree with the above in that it is strange quote (nonsense) and seems out of context (if trying to figure out what it meant you would expect exogenous information to exist and be helpful) as much of our everyday speech would be if recorded. It is different from other out of context lines in that it is apparent that it is out of context, and thus not as misleading as some other quotes, but still doesn't make sense.
5.23.2006 2:43pm
FAR52 (mail):
Clearly the President would have been pointing to the door when describing the desk. Thus, much of his communication (at least in this paragraph) would have been via non-verbal means. In other words, he communicated in ways that would not be reflected in a transcription. That is why the paragraph reads in such a disjointed fashion.
5.23.2006 2:45pm
"What do I think is funny, ridiculous, inarticulate, telling, or otherwise noteworthy about it?"
It's an illustration of Bush's poor speaking skills. The first two sentences in the quotation are each grammatically troublesome. The second two sentences are disjointed without contextual explanation, but might be clearer if we could see the 'door'.

"What point do I think the author of the column was trying to make with it?"
Bush is not very well spoken.
5.23.2006 2:46pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Out of context and without reading the comments, the humor is in the use of the royal "we" near its most famous user, VR; and the incongruous sentence that JFK stuck his head out the door.

FWIW I regularly take remarks out of context and write them down when I'm attending meetings that would otherwise be boring, for my own amusement.
5.23.2006 2:46pm
FAR52 (mail):

P.S. Besides FDR, one other president modified the Resolute Desk. Which one, and why?

Reagan -- he had it raised because of his height.
5.23.2006 2:46pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

I read it at Slate and didn't get the point.
5.23.2006 2:47pm
The "us" thing seems like a weird one to knock him on. Clearly "us" refers to "us Americans" and is a shorthand used all the time in conversation.
5.23.2006 2:48pm
roy (mail) (www):
It is inarticulate due to twisted grammar in the first sentence. Also due to random factoids in the latter portion. It doesn't seem funny, ridiculous, or telling to me, just hard to parse.

The writer's point is that Bush don't talk good.
5.23.2006 2:50pm
MF (mail):
I just think it's confusing because I don't know what the desk looks like. I don't can't quite picture the desk with a "door" or how someone might put his head out of it. I don't think that makes Bush sound stupid; I just think it is something that won't make sense unless you see the desk.
5.23.2006 2:50pm
Bonnie (mail):
The author's point: Bush is quite willing and able to prattle on about inane details of a desk. Yet, by many accounts, he demonstrates far less willingness and ability to discuss important policy matters. Funny? No. Ridiculous, telling, otherwise noteworthy? Indeed.
5.23.2006 2:50pm
guest (mail):
Slightly inarticulate, though something I (or anyone else) could easily say while speaking off the cuff. Slate (as usual) disingenuously withholds the context, making the JFK remark seem abrupt and out of place.

Eddie, before you go off blasting someone else's use of language, learn how to spell "non sequitur."
5.23.2006 2:50pm
uh_clem (mail):
NOTE: posted without reading any other responses - that's what you wanted, right? My raw take:

It's not really funny, just embarrasing that someone in his position is speaking in mangled sentence fragments.

As a Bushism, it's low grade and probably should have been left on the editing floor. There have been some true howlers, and Jake should be more discriminating.
5.23.2006 2:52pm
Doorless Desk:
It sounds like a child recounting what he learned on a tour of the White House for class "show-and-tell." It's a jumble of facts smashed together with little regard for grammar or, more importantly, narrative coherence. I can't see how this would help the German reporter learn much about the desk. Then again, I suspect the reporter wasn't there to learn about the desk anyway.

By the way, I don't think Bush's awkward speech is a big deal. On the other hand, I don't see why Slate's reprinting these odd and often funny locutions is a big deal either, as it appears to be on VC.
5.23.2006 2:53pm
For those of you who don't like the "us," I can imagine that it refers to "The People of the United States of America" as Queen Victoria might have put it in a letter when she gave the desk to Hayes. Bush certainly constitutes a member of this body (now, certainly, even if he wasn't a member at the time)!
5.23.2006 2:53pm
The nine presidents did stand out as weird (I assumed that maybe it was used only irregularly, though), and the Wikipedia article confirms that it was used by 22, not 9, presidents, which means Bush was way off. Not really much of a knock, except that it's kind of obnoxious when people drop factoids to seem knowledgeable when in fact they're spreading misinformation. :)

(By the way -- I also think it's pretty silly to credit Bush with some preternatural intelligence for knowing that the desk came in the 1870's from Victoria and that it was modified by FDR and famously photographed with JFK and son. It's the desk he uses every day and it's the kind of trivia one remembers.)
5.23.2006 2:54pm
Wes Morgan:
Well, this quote actually presents the core question well, in terms of "what's up with this guy?" Working solely from this quote, we could suggest that:

* He does NOT compose sentences well, and
* He rambles, which gives the impression that
* His thought processes are rather muddled, but yet
* He shows command of certain facts, albeit an obscure
fact in this case (it was John-John Kennedy, in a rather
famous Oval Office picture, not JFK, who put his
head through the door)

Such statements make for difficult analyses. *laugh*
What qualities can we ascribe to Bush when we read comments
of this sort? Intelligent, yet inarticulate? Merely slow-on-the-uptake
in any unscripted situation? Well-meaning rambler, a la Reagan?
How did this guy survive at Yale? I must admit that these "Bushisms"
often cause me to cringe; my negative reaction to mangled language is almost visceral, and hearing such from our President is disconcerting at best.
5.23.2006 2:56pm
Now that I know the story in question, I actually find the quote mildly (very mildly) amusing, just because it does make it sound like the President rather than his son was featured in the famous pose.

Incidentally, I recall the Bushisms being a lot more amusing way back in the day. My impression, at least, is that early on there was a fairly steady diet of pretty funny malapropisms and verbal gaffes, and I took it at the time as something pretty lighthearted. I stopped reading them long ago, however, and I agree that these recent examples seem pretty banal and mostly unfunny.
5.23.2006 2:57pm
Erick R (mail):
I don't think Bush is using the "royal we" at all. I read his use of "us" to refer to Americans or the United States.

Apparently people would have preferred he said, "This was given to my country's government by Queen Victoria ..." or something closer to how a character out of a Jane Austin novel would speak.
5.23.2006 2:59pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Having read the comments and followed the links to the photo and to the picture of John-John (I was born in 1962 and was never a Kennedy-phile, but I recall seeing photos of Pres. Kennedy allowing John-John to play within the office) the transcript makes perfect sense. The "is" through me, but as an incomplete sentence that bit makes sense. And while there have been 12 presidents, Armen, Wikipedia notes that Johnson, Nixon and Ford did not use it, 12 minus 9 equals 3.
I'm still not sure about the royal "we", but to whom exactly was the Resolute Desk given? The Presidents of the US? The people? The country? The White House? Does the current occupant of the White House conventionally speak about the collective Presidents when giving tours? How well does the German reporter speak English?
5.23.2006 3:01pm
Rational Actor (mail):
I think it demonstrates that Bush is losing his grip, and has become just a caricature of himself, a shell of a man. He has been reduced from giving us tremendous ironies that allowed him to connect with the man on the street while demonstrating to the educated elite that he can play their game of double-entendre ("they misunderestimated me") to a disjointed tour guide who fumbles around his own office.
The Bushism-du-jour should have been retired long ago. The cat is out of the bag, we all know that he doesn't speak articulately, and that it is easy to put something on paper that makes him look like an ass -- just like all (or most) of us. Snarky snark snark snark
5.23.2006 3:06pm
Truth Seeker:
The first sentence is obviously missing part of the thought and the part about John Kennedy putting his head through sounds wrong if you don't know it was Jr. So to the ill-informed perfectionist, it sounds dumb.
5.23.2006 3:06pm
Cory (mail):
Not reading any other comments, I think it is the bit at the end about Kennedy, even though it sounds like something more context would explain. It might also be "is nine other presidents used it" when he should have said "is one that nine other presidents used," though to me that seems like a minor syntactical thing not worth bothering about.
5.23.2006 3:06pm
DustyR (mail) (www):
Of course, the first sentence is inarticulate, owing to the "is", but that shouldn't be a big deal considering the conversational nature. Personally, I think the transcriber erred in keeping "I think it was" as a part of the QV sentence but I'd have to listen to Bush speak. That doesn't matter anyway — it's a conversation and he's showing someone around the office.

It's the last sentence, about Kennedy, which I think Slate thought was funny but either had no clue as what "door" Bush was trying to describe or decided to hide it. Because its a show and tell for Diekmann, I suspect Bush had moved on and was showing him pictures relating to FDR and Kennedy.

As for what Slate's point is, that's pretty apparent: Mock Bush.
5.23.2006 3:08pm
I didn't read the other comments so as not to prejudice my response. It's choppy throughout, and the apparent jump from desk to door sounds weird without context. (Is there a door in the desk?) I am, by the way, not a fan of Bush -- or "Bushisms."
5.23.2006 3:08pm
Murphy (mail):
I don't understand why this is funny.
5.23.2006 3:11pm
Guest J:
The quote is somewhat funny for the following two main reasons:

1. It shows the President's comically poor ability to compose correct, complete sentences even when he is presumably taking care and discussing a simple topic. He can't even chat about the Oval Office without making elementary errors. Also, though one can infer his intended meaning, his remark about the gift from Queen Victoria seems to comically echo monarchical locution: "given to us".

2. Slate manages to come up with fresh examples of the President's solecisms regularly. Thus we learn that when he opens his mouth to speak we will not have long to wait before the President speaks in fractured English. Even if a particular example seems only mildly risible, his remarkable sequence of errors lends each particular example additional humor. Each is a fresh proof in an unending sequence demonstrating that the President is not really fluent in his native tongue. The incongruity between his high office and his inability to speak English correctly is funny.
5.23.2006 3:13pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
JFK, Sr. was "Jack", and JFK, Jr., went by "John". The later apparently rarely used his full name, just going by what the President called him, "John Kennedy". President Bush is unlikely to have met "Jack" Kennedy, or if he did, it was when he was a teenager. Jack was a contemporary of George Bush (41) not his son, George Bush (43). On the other hand, the President is highly likely to have met and known the younger, "John" Kennedy.

Combining the Resolution Desk history given above and the photographs of John Kennedy looking out from under the desk as his father, Jack Kennedy worked, the entire conversation translates into an accurate verbal description of the President's desk.
5.23.2006 3:14pm
Christopher Cooke:
I don't see the humor in it (I say this as an non-supporter of Bush). The "John Kennedy put his head through the door" is, as a prior poster noted, most likely a reference to a picture of John Kennedy Jr. playing with his father in the White House.
5.23.2006 3:16pm
Nathan Hall (mail):
Seems incoherrent to me, and I guess that's the author's point.

In the course of verbal communication, though, nearly everyone says things that don't translate well to print. For that reason, I don't generally find Bushisms especially funny or noteworthy.
5.23.2006 3:17pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
It's moderately funny, but the one from yesterday about the President not promoting religion was far funnier and more revealing. Bush's tendency to use "is" instead of "are" is old hat by now. The best Bushisms are linked to video of some speech or other, btw. Oddly enough for EV, one can see the entire context in the videos, noting precisely when Bush veers off-course from the prepared notes.
5.23.2006 3:19pm
It is a bit inarticulate. It makes it appear for instance that President John Kennedy stuck his head out the door and not his two or three year old son. Is this quote accurate? I have no idea. It is well known that Bush is not the most well spoken guy in the world. Even his defenders cop to that. Do I think that it reveals anything new we didn't know. No it doesn't. They are trying to do a Dan Quale, or Jerry Ford on Bush-- a guy who is a goof who some how ended up in a position of great power despite his stupidity.
5.23.2006 3:20pm
Well, it seems pretty incoherent. There is a lot of stumbling and lack of general grace. Plus, how does putting a door in hide a wheelchair? What does it mean that JFK put his head out the door? Didn't he do that every time he left the room?

I'm guessing that context will clear some of it up, but we all would like a president who talks like Martin Sheen (without his politics).
5.23.2006 3:20pm
lucia (mail) (www):
I did just as instructed, didn't read any context nor any comments. Here's my take of how Bush probably looked and sounded during the tour:

"Finally, the desk...(Bush gestures toward table).. where we'll have our picture taken? -- nine other presidents used it. This was given to us by Queen Victoria in the 1870s; (Bush's expression changing to minor puzzlement) ... I think it was. (Turning and pointing to door.) President Roosevelt put the door in so people would not know he was in a wheelchair. (Chuckle) And see that door. (Gestures towards a door.) John Kennedy put his head out the door." -- Showing German newspaper reporter Kai Diekmann the Oval Office, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2006

Note: My changes to the text include: I removed an "in front of" and an "is". I changed a comma into a semicolon to fix the sentence fragment, but that would be correcting the author or transcriptionists rendition of the spoken word.

Presumably, the author wants us to notice that Bush, when giving impromptu tours, sometimes misplaces a few words.

Conversational speech often sounds clueless, particularly when gestures are removed.
5.23.2006 3:21pm
Andrew Edwards (mail):
Mildly amusing, jumbled and inarticulate. I take the point to be that "phrasing this poor cannot possibly be that of an intelligent man."

I'd call myself fairly liberal, but disinterested by the "Bush is dumb" stuff. I'm far more concerned at the quality of his governance (or lack thereof, in my opinion) than in the sophistication of his intellect.
5.23.2006 3:25pm
I think the focus was on saying only nine presidents had used the desk. I think the rest of the quote is interesting in that it shows Bush should have known the number was higher than nine (given he knew Queen Victoria gave it and that FDR had used it and made changes).
5.23.2006 3:25pm
James Ellis (mail):
I think that the point that the Slate author is trying to make is that George Bush is an inarticulate buffoon who stumbles through his day having his picture taken with foreign journalists and clumsily passing off trivia about White House furniture.

I don't think that the point is made very effectively, and don't agree with it in any event, but it seems that this is where the author is going.
5.23.2006 3:27pm
Dell Adams (mail):
What's noteworthy:
(1) Colloquial misuse of "where" in first sentence; like many such, it's jarring in print.
(2) Last few words of first sentence appear as a more serious distortion of grammar: "is nine other presidents used it." This is clearly a transcription error, though; the dash belongs after "is".
(3) "I think it was" in second sentence could be read to imply personal recollection, as if Bush thought he had been there to receive the gift and was trying to remember the occasion.
(4) "John Kennedy put his head out the door." A reader who hasn't picked up on the implication in Bush's previous sentence, that the "door" in the desk is at knee height, would be puzzled why he would say this without adding some context, such as "--during the Cuban missile crisis." Even so, when it's clear there must have been some incident or photo opportunity when Kennedy crouched under the desk as a joke, Bush's statement would have been clearer if he had added "--one time" or something.

What point was the author of the column trying to make with it? No special point beyond the premise of the column itself, which is that it's not hard to find Bush saying stupid things. In fact, however, as your readers have seen many times, the columnist often finds himself scraping the bottom of the barrel--adducing a quote that only someone expecting stupidity can read as stupid. This still pleases one part of the audience, or the exercise would not continue. It must still be one of the most thankless jobs in all of journalism.
5.23.2006 3:28pm
It does come across as inarticulate, which is common with transcriptions of speech. It is not funny, ridiculous, telling, or otherwise noteworthy, but it is obviously selected to appear to be all of those things. People who have never read transcripts of spoken language will be more persuaded that this is evidence of inarticulateness and lack of intelligence than people who are familiar with how disjointed even formal speech by highly intelligent people can appear when transcribed. Those who read this casually without taking the context into account will also be more likely to think that this is evidence that the speaker isn't intelligent. I would guess that unintelligent readers will gloss over it and not notice anything awful, intelligent readers will take into account the context and the nature of transriptions of spoken words, and the middlebrows (esp. left-leaning ones) will accept this as evidence of Bush's inarticulateness and stupidity.
5.23.2006 3:29pm
Tinhorn (mail):
(Posted without having read any of the prior comments)

The thing that strikes me most about this passage is the seeming inarticulousness of it. It is jumpy, in parts ungrammatical, and unclear, at least without further context. (And I don't expect that further context would fix the jumpiness or ungrammaticality.) As it stands, I really can't find much reason for the statement "John Kennedy put his head out the door." I'm generally centrist and apolitical, so I'm not (inherently) either a supporter or a basher of either Republicans or Democrats -- I try to examine each person on his own merits (or lack thereof), unfettered by outside baggage. That said, unless context really helps here, this does not sound like the thought process I would want coming from my President, although I recognize this was extemporaneous and our spoken paragraphs can't all be gems.

Now, *that* said, this does not strike me as something worthy of a "Bushism of the Day." In my opinion, those should be reserved for statements that either make no literal sense, strange coinages, scary power grabs, saying the opposite of what was meant, or times that really make one wonder if a gear is missing. This selection, while somewhat inarticulate, does not by my measure rise, or sink, to that level. (Although in general it's safe to say -- for good or ill -- that my standard is more inclusive that yours seems to be, based upon past posts.)
5.23.2006 3:29pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
Traveler writes:

My other reaction is that President Bush has paid attention to the provenance of his desk, and is correct that Queen Victoria was around in the 1870s. So much for the theory that President Bush knows nothing about history.
I'm always impressed how the crowd that likes to assume that Bush is some sort of retard seldom mentions that his B.A. is in... History, from that well-known barber college and trade school, Yale.
5.23.2006 3:29pm
1) nothing
2) writer doesn't have better subject matter to use and should have just taken the day off.

What I read is a direct quote of an extemporaneous tour of the office where Bush had a mid-sentence change of direction. It's something that I think happens in lots of extemporaneous discussions, but the speaker is usually saved by the fact that no one is transcribing the conversation. Goodness knows I don't want to see a transcription of many of my conversations (or answering machine messages for that matter).

I find Bush to be less articulate than I'd like in a President, both to my sometimes amusement and chagrin, but the selected text isn't one of those times. Appears to be a simple human moment to these eyes.
5.23.2006 3:30pm
It strikes me as an innocuously semi-articulate statement that probably seemed like normal conversation to anyone who was in the room with Bush. As noted in a prior comment, it reads like some of my depositions do -- I sure hope I'm not as inarticulate as some of the transcripts make me out to be!

Does the comment rise to the level of a Bushism? I think not.
5.23.2006 3:31pm
Captain Indignant:
(Brief aside - Prof. V., we know you don't like Bushisms. Get on with it. You have better stuff to say.)

At least part of the amusement value of the quote -- and of the last Bushism too -- is, surely, that a man who invokes his status as a "war president" regularly for tactical effect, whenever it is expedient, finds nothing objectionable in his making idle, incoherent chitchat for the press and public regularly. (Any more than he recognizes the effect on some members of the public of his vacation schedule during said "wartime.")
5.23.2006 3:32pm
Chico's Bail Bonds (mail):
Jumbled syntax within sentences - jumbled thoughts between sentences.
5.23.2006 3:33pm
I think that Bush must having been moving around the office when he was giving the speech.

He was trying to highlight presidents that the German reporter would make a connection to, hence FDR and Kennedy. I understand that Kennedy is still revered to many Germans for his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech, even though he said he was a donut and not what he meant to say, so I assume that's why Kennedy was mentioned.
5.23.2006 3:33pm
Richard Riley (mail):
There's nothing really "wrong" or ungrammatical about Bush's words, since they were said in informal conversation. The "us" to whom he says Queen Victoria gave the desk obviously means "Americans" - nothing odd there. And he does seem to get his basic facts right. No, I think Jacob Weisberg's point with this Bushism is that, on the whole, it just makes Bush sound a little goofy and scatterbrained.
5.23.2006 3:36pm
Neil S (mail):
It strikes me that for Pres. Bush, as most others, a perfect transcription of extemperaneous utterances is less than flattering.
5.23.2006 3:41pm
Rue Des Quatre Vents (mail):
My guess is that they wanted to underscore Bush's tendency to end a sentence with a different syntax from what he started with. The first sentence illustrates that, perhaps. Also, they wanted highlight what they believe to be Bush's facile humor. The Kennedy line gestures at a joke, but to the ignorant of what it possibly refers to, it comes off lame.
5.23.2006 3:41pm
Anon Liberal:
Datapoint from a rabid Bush-hater:

The excerpt is pointless. It's not funny, ridiculous, etc.; it's not even all that inarticulate if one considers that it's apparently an unedited, verbatim transcript of an informal conversation that was no doubt accompanied by gestural cues.

Bush says a lot of stupid things. Some of them are actively dangerous. Some are funny. Slate sometimes captures them. But by and large, their "Bushism of the Day" segment is tired and unfunny; they're simply trying too hard.
5.23.2006 3:44pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Without reading the preceding 100 plus comments, the phrase "is nine other presidents used it" seems odd and grammatically incorrect. The words "I think it was" should be the beginning of the sentence which now begins with "President Roosevelt" rather than the end of the preceding sentence (I'd be willing to be that is a transcription error much like the infamous "is our children learning" which was really "is . . . are children learning"). Also the last sentence "John Kennedy put his head out the door" (to do what?) seems like the beginning of a new idea rather than a new complete sentence and we need to see what follows it to be sure.
5.23.2006 3:45pm
Big deal nothing new from Bush and contrary to conventional wisdom not a sign of being inarticulate. Some would even say a sign of intelligence. The mind works faster than the mouth can speak. Think of Bush's speech like a tape recorder that keeps skipping ahead and you'll see the similarity.
5.23.2006 3:46pm
Kim Scarborough (mail) (www):
It sounds a little weird because he starts out talking about a desk and then abruptly cuts to talking about a door. Before Eugene started this series I would have thought that Bush was just being a dope; now I just assume they cut out some context that would have it make more sense.
5.23.2006 3:46pm
Joanne Jacobs (mail) (www):
I've typed transcripts and looked through interview notes for a coherent quote. When people are talking, they often start a sentence, jump or wander away and never return to the original sentence. When they're walking around and gesturing, they're even more likely to sound jumbled on a transcript because the non-verbal information is absent. Intelligent people, quoted precisely, often come across as incoherent and ungrammatical. Of course, that doesn't prove that Bush is intelligent. It proves nothing.
5.23.2006 3:47pm
The Other Phil (mail):
I think the point was that Bush can sound inarticulate. The closing comment about Kennedy will sound silly to someone who doesn't know the context.

I followed the rules to not do research before posting my answer, but I think there will be a notable photograph of Kennedy sticking his head out of the oval office. However, it isn't as well-known as FDR's need for a wheelchair, so without context it sounds odd. My guess is that the German reporter is not familiar with the picture, so didn't understand his point.

5.23.2006 3:48pm
K Bennight (mail):
The most inarticulate thing about it is the phrase "is none other presidents used it." He should have said "was used by nine other presidents." Having read transcriptions of my deposition questions, I'm not one to point fingers. In truth, I think few people do consistently better. I see nothing funny in this at all.

But then I am a red-stater.
5.23.2006 3:48pm
I think the John Kennedy quote refers to a famous photo of John Jr. as a child playing around his fathers desk.
5.23.2006 3:48pm
John Wismar:
Well, it doesn't read well. On the page, it sounds pretty inarticulate. It's kind of hard to determine what he's referring to.

In person, and if we were able to hear inflections, pauses, etc., I would guess we'd be able to hear places where he was rewinding and rephrasing, interrupting himself, or switching topic suddenly, as we all tend to do when we're speaking conversationally.
5.23.2006 3:51pm
It seems many posters (and probably Slate) are highlighting more of their own ignorance, rather than the President's. First, a President chooses the desk he will use; hence, it is entirely plausible, and likely, that only nine Presidents (and not all of them) have used this particular desk since Queen Victoria sent it over. If I recall correctly, and I may not, Ronald Reagan used Calvin Coolidge's desk; hence, that's one President that did not use the Queen's gift. Second, a speaker does not say "dash dash" when speaking, hence the first "is" may or may not have come after the "--" entered by the transcriber. Third, any smug poster on here (or Slate) who thinks he speaks perfect English orally, every time, has never seen the written transcription of a deposition, speech, court appearance, etc. that he has given. Fourth, a President has much better things to be worried about than schlepping a German reporter around the Oval Office. I am glad he didn't spend time prepping for this tour and giving a PhD-level history course. It's rather sad, actually, that Slate can't find something more constructive with which to bash Bush...
5.23.2006 3:51pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
It makes Bush look like an inarticulate buffoon. Which I think is the point.
5.23.2006 3:51pm
Erick R. can't spell Jane Austen. Shall we devote a regular column to mocking him? No. Slate's Bushisms are tiresome and uninformative, as any column attempting to regularly catalogue irregular events will become.
5.23.2006 3:52pm
Gabriel Rossman (www):
It's pretty hard to tell what the point is. My only two guesses are a) the word "us" (though I don't see what is wrong with the first person plural as it could refer either to American presidents or the American people) or b) some kind of weird joke about the way in which JFK was killed.

Either way the quote seems completely unobjectionable to me, even taken out of context, and I agree with Eugene that marking it as a "Bushism" is bizarre.
5.23.2006 3:53pm
Not funny, just kind of sad. There's no there, there.

P.S. Besides FDR, one other president modified the Resolute Desk. Which one, and why?

Clinton had it raised, because Monica almost got a concussion...
(wait for it...)
5.23.2006 3:54pm
5.23.2006 3:55pm
Cory J (mail):
"Finally, the desk, where we'll have our picture taken in front of -- is nine other presidents used it. This was given to us by Queen Victoria in the 1870s, I think it was. President Roosevelt put the door in so people would not know he was in a wheelchair. John Kennedy put his head out the door." -- Showing German newspaper reporter Kai Diekmann the Oval Office, Washington, D.C., May 5, 2006

I find the comment slightly inarticulate--assuming that the author did not chop up the quote--in that the grammar is somewhat clumsy if you read the transcript verbatim. But who among us wouldn't sound like that if you transcribed our everyday casual speech?

I was confused for a second or two by the John Kennedy quote, until I realized Bush meant JFK Jr. We've all probably seen pictures of him and Caroline playing in the White House, so that makes sense to me. The FDR reference should be readily apparent to most. It makes sense he'd cut a door to place his legs in when people visited the office: They'd simply see a man sitting in a chair at a desk.

My best guess is that the author is trying to convey that a foreign visitor wouldn't know Bush is talking about JFK Jr. Without knowing that kids would be playing with the desk, the quote would warrant a follow-up question. In any case, I would think it's obvious the speaker is relating a simple anecdote or two.

Now to read what others thought.
5.23.2006 3:55pm
Cory J (mail):
Quick follow-up:

My best guess is that the author is trying to convey that a foreign visitor wouldn't know Bush is talking about JFK Jr.

...and therefore, Bush is dumb/naive for not catering to his audience and assuming they would know which JFK. Seems petty to me. As I said, the speaker could simply ask a follow-up question.
5.23.2006 3:57pm
Here the picture
5.23.2006 3:58pm
I suppose it attempts to mock his grammar: "is" in the first sentence, using "our" to refer to 19th c Presidents, etc.

To me Bush's syntax seems quite natural for someone chatting convesationally, dropping in paranethetical phrases about interesting points as they come to mind.
5.23.2006 4:00pm
brett verona (mail):

This is seemingly inarticulate in that "is nine other presdietns used it" is improper gramattically. also, the phrase about JFK putting his head out the door also seems to be odd (though you know what he means - presumably that he would poke his head out the door as opposed to leaving it out there.
5.23.2006 4:02pm
Nels Nelson (mail):
The first sentence is somewhat inarticulate, but is also typical of extemporaneous speech; it's no great secret that the President has trouble speaking off-the-cuff.

The sentence about John Kennedy comes across as ridiculous, though if one were there and could see the door - it sounds like some kind of dutch door based on the Roosevelt comment - it would probably make more sense. Lost on the page is any pantomiming the President might have done, illustrating how Kennedy stuck his head out the door. Also unknown is the identity of the audience; perhaps he/she/they know more about Kennedy than do I.
5.23.2006 4:03pm