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Today's Bushism:

Here's today's Bushism of the Day, from Slate:

"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

My first reaction when reading it was: Huh? Kennedy putting his head out the door? What is he talking about? I had assumed that this would be the reaction of many other readers, and the response to my post below confirms that it was indeed the reaction of some.

If I'm right, wouldn't it have been just a bit more fair to include a little more context?

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.

Q Yes, the very famous picture --

THE PRESIDENT: That's it — the most famous picture. And then Reagan, interestingly enough, put the bottom on there. He was a big guy, he didn't want to bump his knees under the desk.

I'd never heard of the picture, but it turns out that the picture shows John F. Kennedy's son (sometimes known as John-John, but quite properly called John, especially when the context is clear to listeners, which in this case it obviously was) coming out the door in front of the desk. Am I one of the few people who had never heard of the desk? And if I'm not, wouldn't it have been better to explain the matter to readers? Bush rightly guessed that the journalist who was interviewing him would get the reference, and in any case he was right there to clarify if the journalist seemed confused. But it seems to me that the Bushisms author couldn't fairly make such an assumption.

What's more, why exactly was that line included in the quote, if not to make Bush sound absurd — unfairly so, for the reason I just described? Some commenters suggested that the point of the Bushism may relate to Bush's diction: "where we'll have our picture taken in front of" instead of "in front of which we'll have our picture taken" or "where we'll have our picture taken," plus the unnecessary "is" before "nine other presidents used it." These glitches happen routinely in unscripted speech, even in the speech of intelligent and generally articulate people. Read some transcripts some time, and you'll see a lot of it. Carefully listen to yourself or your articulate friends talk, and you'll hear the same.

But in any event, all these glitches are in the first sentence; the other sentences are quite grammatical. (Some commenters claimed otherwise, but I think they're mistaken.) Why are those sentences included? Some commenters objected to the "us" in the "given to us by Queen Victoria" as a supposed "royal we," but I take it that in context "us" simply means "Americans" (as in "the French gave us the Statue of Liberty").

Some other commenters said the sentences are disjointed, but recall that Bush is discussing items in his office. How do you describe an interesting piece of furniture to someone who's looking at it with you? I'll bet you point to one aspect, say a sentence about it, point to another, say another sentence, and so on. The connections between sentences are provided by your gestures and the listener's examination of the piece; you don't need to worry about sounding disjointed. A few people pointed out that the desk was used by more than nine Presidents — one source reports that it has been all since Hayes except Johnson, Nixon, and Ford — but surely that can't be the Bushism author's point. One commenter suggested that "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." Yet that hardly seems like a fair way to use the quote; Bush is giving a journalist a tour of his office — aren't Presidents allowed to do that, and to talk about the furniture in the process?

In any case, I still can't see any legitimate reason for the third and fourth sentences to be included. If the inclusion is an attempt to make Bush sound like he's saying something absurd, it's unfair, because it would work only because of the audience's own ignorance of the photo to which Bush was referring, and which is noted in the very next sentence from the transcript. And if it's not an attempt to do that, I have no idea why those sentences were quoted.

Finally, let me stress again: Of course the Bushism item is a joke, and jokes shouldn't held to the same standards of logic or fairness as a newspaper article would be. But it's clear that the joke is meant to make a political point — meant to be something of a criticism. Shouldn't such material pass at least some standard of fairness, like for instance that it not be something that looks absurd (at least to some readers) in context but perfectly sensible in context?

Medis:
Although the quote is explainable as a reference to the John-John picture, I still think the way that the President said it made it sound like he was saying PRESIDENT Kennedy stuck his head through the door, which is mildly amusing.

And no, I don't think the good Professor's recent obsession with the "fairness" of Slate's Bushisms makes much sense. In other words, "fairness" in the good Professor's sense is indeed not something that we generally expect or demand of such jokes.

But I look forward to the good Professor's analysis of how the jokes on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and SNL's Weekend Update are often "unfair" to poor President Bush.
5.23.2006 4:20pm
Robert Schwartz (mail):
I suppose I am showing my age by saying that I remember that picture very well.

Medis: What jokes are you talking about? I have heard anything funny on those shows. Angry, yes. Funny, no.
5.23.2006 4:38pm
Just:
"Shouldn't such material pass at least some standard of fairness, like for instance that it not be something that looks absurd (at least to some readers) in context but perfectly sensible in context?"

Nope.
Think of it as entertainment. (cartoons, DaVinci movies, AI, Bushisms, etc.)

If it sells, and people are talking about it, "fair" has nothing to do with it. Everything is fodder for entertaining; nothing is off limits.

Some demographic, not your thinking readers, may have been temporarily entertained. Something for everyone
5.23.2006 4:40pm
uh clem (mail):
If you've never laughed at any of that stuff, you've either never watched or have no sense of humor.

SNL's Weekend Update has never been funny? Amazing.
5.23.2006 4:42pm
Medis:
Robert,

Well, there you go. We seem to have proven that humor is a matter of taste.

Quelle surprise!
5.23.2006 4:42pm
Just:


Also, sometimes the more you analyze, the less sense the humor makes. Still doesn't mean something's not funny at first glance. Why do you think Beavis and Butthead humor, and fart jokes are so commonplace? heh heh
5.23.2006 4:43pm
te (mail):
I guess you point is you think it is somehow unfair to use this particular quote to demonstrate that Bush is inarticulate and not very bright.

I agree - there are literally hundred of other quotes out there that make that point much better than this one.

But that's not exactly something to celebrate.
5.23.2006 4:44pm
Mongoose388:
What slate has done to Bush is akin to what was done by SNL to Gerald Ford. Can anyone say that being portrayed as a klutz that played football without a helmet helped win him votes against Carter?
5.23.2006 4:48pm
Ben Bytheway:
A quick google search found the famous picture:

5.23.2006 4:48pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
The Bushisms thing is pretty tired. They should only run it when Bush actually pulls a howler.

That said, EV's ... preoccupation with it is a bit odd. It's the internet; of course it's filled with stupid stuff.

Or is it just that FedSoc antipathy to any criticism of the President? ;)

(See link for joke--no clue whether EV even a member.)
5.23.2006 4:51pm
Ben Bytheway:
Sorry, don't know why the link didn't make it.

http://www.artvisionexhibitions.com/files/underdesk.jpg
5.23.2006 4:51pm
Just:

" I still think the way that the President said it made it sound like he was saying PRESIDENT Kennedy stuck his head through the door, which is mildly amusing."

And I still think the implied humor plays on Kennedy's promiscuity and the double entendre meaning of head. None of your commenters were polite enough to mention it, but in other circles, this is a popular type of humor unfortunately
5.23.2006 4:53pm
ed:
Really, even with the context, this still reads to me like a pretty inept attempt at narrating the history of this piece of furniture. It sounds like Bush had at some point memorized a handful of interesting tidbits about the desk, and is spewing them out haphazardly rather than actually offering a coherent account, or a description that doesn't depend heavily on the listener's preexisting familiarity with the subject. If I had been there, I seriously doubt I would have had the slightest idea what he was talking about.

Yes, apparently the reporter understood; perhaps the president had good reason to depend on his interloctor's knowledge, and perhaps in person (adding gestures, etc.) the communicative value was considerably higher than the transcript suggests. But this was, after all, intended as an interview for publication, not an informal tour.

The President's diction is, without a doubt, often "unfairly" criticized (for some value of "unfair" that would somehow not encompass the many tendentious caricatures of other politicians, sustained by the press, that seem not to terribly bother Prof. Volokh--do they only count if they're a regular feature in Slate?). But sometimes he is fairly characterized as more than typically inarticulate.

The Slate pieces are attempts at amusement, and the political implications are tenuous at best--people have been making fun of Bush's diction since he ran for governor of Texas, and he still managed to win the 2004 presidential election and make a close showing in 2000. In the large universe of criticisms that should, but fail to, "pass at least some standard of fairness", surely this offense doesn't warrant such alarm or objection. Must we stand up indignantly to each and every offense against the dignity of Dear Leader, no matter how small?
5.23.2006 4:54pm
Just:
Just don't get too famous Professor, or they'll start collecting Volokhism's for cheap entertainment:

"Thanks, got a lot of responses, which very helpful"
5.23.2006 4:59pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Is it true that President Clinton had the door on the desk widened for easier adult access?

Just askin? (wink)

Says the "Dog"
5.23.2006 5:05pm
K Ashford (mail):
I was born the year that picture was taken, and even I am aware of it. But moving on....

"But it's clear that the joke is meant to make a political point -- meant to be something of a criticism."

I disagree. Just as "Stengelese" was not intended to make a point about Casey Stengel's managerial skills, "Bushisms" are not intended to make a political point. At least not a huge one.

I suspect that Professor Volokh approaches Bushisms as if they are intended to be "gotchas" -- some biting criticism of the President. I think that's overreaching. "Bushisms" are merely a compendium of inept and inarticulate things the President says (and as with any compendium, some examples fare better than others). Nothing more, nothing less.

Don't we all say boneheaded things, or stumble over our words, from time to time? Sure. But I think, as Presidents go, Bush tends to outpace his brethren, just as Casey Stengel did. Slate may be overstating its point with daily Bushisms, but Professor Volokh, I believe, misses the point entirely.
5.23.2006 5:06pm
Houston Lawyer:
This whole discussion assumes that the few people who actually read Slate haven't already made up their minds regarding the president. If you're prone to read a Bushism of the day, you probably already believe that he is a talking chimp.
5.23.2006 5:06pm
Elliot123 (mail):
This sounds a bit like the guy who said he voted for it before he voted against it.
5.23.2006 5:10pm
Justin_F (mail):
My guess is they started a Bushism a day column without actually checking to see of there were going to be 365 legitimate Bushisms a year. It seems as though there aren't. The overall point is he's not a good speaker, which is a pretty important quality for a president, IMHO. But we knew that.
5.23.2006 5:19pm
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
Is it not legitimate to make the point that our President has difficulty expressing himself in sentences that are clear as they stand, on their face, without the need for listeners to rely on contextual cues or subsequent clarification? Might transparency of spoken expression not be deemed desirable, in a leader?
5.23.2006 5:28pm
zzyz:
Since when is a panel a "door"?
5.23.2006 5:31pm
Shad:
The funniest thing about the previous thread was noticing that every one of the commenters who claimed that the minor errors Bush made in his extemporaneous conversation made him sound stupid (or drunk, incompetent, mentally defective, etc.) had — without exception — made at least one typographic, syntactic, or grammatic error of their own in their critical comment.
5.23.2006 5:38pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
When it swings open?

I suppose if I were the correspondent (foreign or domestic) assigned to the White House I'd be familiar with lore and famous pictures, and seeing the desk from an iconic half-century-old picture would be meaningful (less meaningful than seeing an original document; more meaningful than seeing the pen with which one letter of the President's signature was affixed to a particular piece of legislation). And getting a tour of the White House from the President himself wouldn't be about learning the stuff on the self-guided tour and in the coffee table book, but about face time and formalities and exchanges of respect, same as a $500-a-plate dinner isn't about the food.

has difficulty expressing himself in sentences that are clear as they stand, on their face, without the need for listeners to rely on contextual cues or subsequent clarification? Might transparency of spoken expression not be deemed desirable, in a leader?

In speeches, and even Q&A, yes, but not in meaningless day-to-day oral exchanges. In the context of a tour of an office, the non-verbal are absolutely part of the communication.

I offer you this laurel, and hearty handshake...
5.23.2006 5:45pm
NY (mail):
"Is it not legitimate to make the point that our President has difficulty expressing himself in sentences that are clear as they stand, on their face, without the need for listeners to rely on contextual cues or subsequent clarification? Might transparency of spoken expression not be deemed desirable, in a leader?"

(1) Maybe it's a legitimate point, but why harp on it as if it is the only thing that matters or that it is truly the man's greatest flaw? Libbers seem to latch on to anything just to criticize the guy, but will bend over (literally) for their own (really, how do you explain the defense of Kennedy [any] and Clinton?).

Do we always speak in clear stand-alone sentences, without relying on our audience's grasp of context to fill in the gaps? If I call some woman a 'starlet' or a guy a 'confirmed bachelor', I may be calling some woman a 'starlet' or a guy a 'confirmed bachelor'. But if I add a 'contextual cue', say winking, I am not calling some woman a 'starlet' or a guy a 'confirmed bachelor'.

(2) Transparency of spoken expression may or may not be desirable; diplomacy and law consist entirely of saying something without saying it or saying nothing while seeming to be say something. Do you want your leader to be a saint or a Machiavelli?
5.23.2006 5:49pm
Smithy (mail) (www):
Simply put, this is a disgrace. How can anyone claim that Slate doesn't hate Bush, that the media doesn't hate Bush? Where does it end? We've got Marxists brain-washing our children, we've got Al Qaeda sympathizers in the press leaking secrets and trashing the president while we are at war.

What can we do to stop Slate's "Bushism Of the Day"? I've written angry email after angry email to Slate about this. And no reply. I urge you all to do the same. If that fails, I'm calling their sponsors. Let's force Slate to back down and end this atrocity once and for all.
5.23.2006 5:58pm
JDH:
To use an analogy from math, imagine someone ridiculing someone else for talking about "the square root of negative one"--because, according to the first person, "everyone knows you can't take the square root of a negative number."

Perhaps a joke in that vein would be funny--but only to people who have no idea what they're talking about.

Slate's "Bushisms" seem, to me, to be that sort of joke. This might explain why Slate can't provide the context (or even a link): once you're no longer clueless, the joke's no longer funny.
5.23.2006 5:59pm
CJColucci:
Please. Enough. This is starting to make the "gay recruitment" or the "sexual assault is bad because it turns me on" threads look good.
5.23.2006 6:00pm
TO:
I wonder if Monica Lewinsky made use of the door...
5.23.2006 6:04pm
JoshL (mail):
As a number of people have noted, the John Kennedy sticking his head through the door while Jack Kennedy sits at the desk picture is rather famous; that's what I thought of right away, and I was born more than 20 years after Jack Kennedy was killed. Otherwise, it seems relatively reasonable for impromptu comments, and ignoring the is in the first sentence, makes sense. (And to be fair, who doesn't toss in an extra "it's" or "is" or similar word into normal conversation?)
5.23.2006 6:16pm
Hattio (mail):
Just a quick note. I'm pretty sure that the Bushisms started (along with the Kerryisms) during the run-up to the election, and were not a daily feature originally. I can only imagine they were so popular that they expanded to a daily feature.


And I'm finally sure that Smithy is a liberal caricaturing a virulent right-winger...at least mostly sure.
5.23.2006 6:18pm
A.S.:
But it's clear that the joke is meant to make a political point — meant to be something of a criticism. Shouldn't such material pass at least some standard of fairness, like for instance that it not be something that looks absurd (at least to some readers) in context but perfectly sensible in context?

Remember, Professor Volokh, IOKIYAD. That is, it's ALWAYS OK to criticize Bush, no matter the occasion, no matter how fair or unfair, no matter what. Because he invaded Iraq. The ends justify the means.
5.23.2006 6:18pm
Guest J:
"These glitches happen routinely in unscripted speech, even in the speech of intelligent and generally articulate people. Read some transcripts some time, and you'll see a lot of it. Carefully listen to yourself or your articulate friends talk, and you'll hear the same."

Nonsense.

I and my friends are simply not that inarticulate. Perhaps I might experience a "glitch" like that if you woke me up in the middle of the night after the longest and roughest day of my year and forced me to explain something genuinely complicated. I would certainly not make such an error when speaking about trivia concerning my own office, especially if I were talking to a reporter.

The point of the "Bushism of the Day" is that the President can hardly open his mouth without fracturing the language. He does it time after time, quite frequently. This is an indication of his extremely poor command of English, which is comical in a man who has attained such a high office.
5.23.2006 6:45pm
uh clem (mail):
Hattio,

The Bushisms column dates back to the first Bush43 administration, Kerryisms were temporarily added during the election season for "balance". It was never daily, althogh they did market a Bushism of the Day calendar.

And I'm finally sure that Smithy is a liberal caricaturing a virulent right-winger...at least mostly sure.

Ya think? (c:
5.23.2006 6:48pm
Redman:
And it was under that very desk that John John first hatched the plan for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
5.23.2006 7:02pm
Bryan Long:
When did volokh.com start redirecting to Little Green Footballs?
5.23.2006 7:59pm
JimmySevenbakers:
Pick any person at random, put them under the MSM microscope for a year, and see if you can come up with their Bush like statement for a day. How many of those at Slate could survive the same glare using the same lame out of context standards they use to come up with Bushisms.
5.23.2006 8:15pm
dwillo:
Wow, someone's strainin' to do some explainin'! Good grief, just admit he said something odd that some might find amusing, and let it go. "Bushisms" are premised on the idea that Bush, like Yogi Berra, has an uncanny ability to mangle the language in innovative and suggestive ways. True or not, it's a politically benign conceit, not some sinister ideological agenda.

Besides, politicians' utterances have been taken out of context and lampooned for as long as politicians have existed. Otherwise, no one would remember "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," "I discovered a place called Love Canal," or "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is," all of which make perfect, unobjectionable sense in context. I wonder if the good professor was so exercised about the "unfairness" of those frequently repeated quotes.
5.23.2006 8:33pm
Brett Bellmore (mail):
The President is remarkably inarticulate, even when giving a scripted, and presumably rehearsed statement. He comes across as somebody whose second language is English. Indeed, I know plenty of people whose second language IS English, who are more articulate in it than our President.

But you don't have to take remarks out of context in order to demonstrate this, and the failure to provide even a link to the context in a web column demonstrates that they don't WANT the comments viewed in context.

They're not trying to make fun of him being inarticulate, they're trying to make fun of him being incoherent, which he isn't.
5.23.2006 8:48pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
sez Doc Volokh:


But it's clear that the joke is meant to make a political point — meant to be something of a criticism. Shouldn't such material pass at least some standard of fairness, like for instance that it not be something that looks absurd (at least to some readers) in context but perfectly sensible in context?


Nah, Doc, 'cause it's a JOKE, see? Jokes don't have to meet standards of fairness, if they're funny, and they can be funny even if they're cheap, rude, crude, mean, or plain dumb. (Cf. Robin Williams: "When you're bombing, and all else fails, go for the dick joke! Penis jokes ALWAYS work!") That you think that jokes need to be "fair" is why you're a law professor, not a comedian (although, I'll admit, pretty funny, for a law professor, sometimes).

Is it "fair" to note the occasional superficial facial resemblance of GWB to a chimpanzee? Heck no, I was taught that it's juvenile, and just plain mean, to make fun of someone's physical attributes. That doesn't mean that it's not funny if done right; apparently the "BUSH OR CHIMP?" websites have a significant following (I can only imagine Smithy's reaction to them.)

GWB is a relatively inarticulate guy, as presidents go; he's not a particularly cerebral guy, as presidents go, and frankly, I don't think he's very smart. Some of the Slate's Bushisms are pretty funny, to me, and apparently to a bunch of other people. Fair? Relatively. Particularly when dealing with a White House which not only removes the "ums", "uhs" and false starts from official transcripts, but may even have fixed up that seven pound "perch" to be a "bass", after the fact. But the fact is, in some weeks, GWB won't say anything that's really NOTABLY and hilariously incoherent and dopey-sounding, and then the Slate has to make do with what they've got.

After all, some people think Rush Limbaugh is funny; still others like South Park, or Tom Green's movies. Not me.

On the other hand, Terry Pratchett's writing, for instance, occasionally makes me laugh so hard that my coffee comes out my nose; when I try and explain the gags to my wife, she just smiles at me indulgently, because they just sound DUMB to her.

Gustibus non, as the man said...


Richard Gould-Saltman
5.23.2006 9:12pm
dick thompson (mail):
Guest J,

If you are including yourself and your friends in a sentence, you should always mention yourself last, not first. Very bad form.
5.23.2006 9:20pm
TallDave (mail) (www):
The "Bushism" feature is a perfect metaphor for the media's coverage of Bush: misleadingly contemptuous.
5.23.2006 9:21pm
dick thompson (mail):
R. Gould-Saltman,

Funny that Bush is so dumb and he keeps making his enemies end up looking stupid. He just keeps winning over them and they just keep telling us he is not very smart. The connection they seem to miss making is that if he is dumb and he keeps beating them, then they are truly stupid. Somehow they just don't see that for some reason.
5.23.2006 9:25pm
Just:

"Funny that Bush is so dumb and he keeps making his enemies end up looking stupid. He just keeps winning over them and ..."

Winning an election is one thing.
Winning the confidence of the people you govern, in a time of war, is another. I don't think he has even tried -- why win them over when you can just try to bully your way through, counting on everyone's fear and deference to authority in wartime?

We might say, the man himself is a tool. It's not GWB's own thoughts or policies being implemented -- he is just the mouthpiece, the aw-shucks one-of-us good-ol-boys whose popularity as the cheerleader implements the policies of other organized interests. (Say, how bout that meeting with Olmert today? Good plan -- undermine Abbas, then say he's the only one you'll meet with to make peace, but if that proves to be an impossibility under current circumstances -- gee, ya think? -- we'll do it our way, like we had hoped in the first place. Sounds like Israel is set to go on Iran today too, with the US just nodding and standing back in a supportive role. Hopefully, this time around, we've played out all the possible scenarios and are thinking more long term than we were in occupying Iraq. All these intelligent people in this country ... no excuses for fucking up again big time and going in half-assed. We shall see...)
5.23.2006 9:46pm
Smithy (mail) (www):

"Funny that Bush is so dumb and he keeps making his enemies end up looking stupid. He just keeps winning over them and ..."



Amen. They keep misunderstimating, and he keeps whupping their butts. The liberal professors aren't as smart as they think they are sometimes.
5.23.2006 10:00pm
Frank Drackmann (mail):
"Its terrible to lose one's mind or not to have a mind is a terrible waste"
5.23.2006 10:31pm
JDE (mail):
While I haven't ever seen the desk in question, the replica oval office in the Clinton Library has a replica version that includes some of the trivia Bush noted to the reporter on a placard outside it. Either they chose not to include the details of individual presidential changes to it, or Bush is better informed.

Be that as it may, the point I hope to make is that the desk is at least somewhat universally regarded as a unique bit of presidential history. It would seem strange to me if Bush didn't mention it and its history in giving a tour of the office. Why is it noteworthy that he did so? Perhaps Bush just doesn't make enough "Bushism" caliber mistakes, so the author must resort to taking inocuous quotes out of context to create the appearance of a Bushism. Hardly seems fair, though.
5.23.2006 10:43pm
Robin Roberts (mail) (www):
If indeed President Bush is so inarticulate, then why are so many of the "Bushisms" essentially faked by alteration, misrepresentation of the context etc?
5.23.2006 10:44pm
Zach (mail):
My guess would be that the Slate compiler didn't catch the reference to the John-John picture, which is a little odd, since it's probably the most famous picture of Kennedy that doesn't involve Dealey Plaza.

Before you criticize Bush for not making the distinction between John and John-John clear, it's worth remembering that transcripts aren't always 100% accurate. I remember a transcript of a Tiger Woods conference at the British Open where he talked about his drives knuckleballing in the harsh wind -- something like "I hit a few drives that would make a Niekro proud." The British transcriber didn't catch the baseball reference and rendered it "I hit a few drives that would make a Negro proud." A German transcriber could easily hear John-John as a stutter and just record John.
5.23.2006 11:01pm
Christopher Cooke:
I don't think humor has to be fair, but it should be funny.
5.23.2006 11:05pm
PaulV (mail):
This attempt at a joke is more a reflection on Slate's ignorance of the context than anything else. I hope that Slate is big enough to laugh at itself but I doubt it.
5.24.2006 12:48am
Lev:

He comes across as somebody whose second language is English.


His second language is English. His first language is Texian.
5.24.2006 12:58am
JPF (mail):
I was struck by Prof. Volokh's statement that all the Presidents since Hayes--bar LBJ, Nixon, and Ford--used trhe Resolute desk, especially since I remember hearing a big deal of hoopla surrounding Clinton moving the desk back into the Oval Office (and the attendant Kennedy comparisons at the time as well).

I knew I wasn't crazy: Bush 41 used Resolute for 5 months in 1989. He then had it moved to the Residence and replaced it with an open partner desk Bush 41 used when he was Vice President.

See also here.
5.24.2006 1:11am
PaulV (mail):
It is also amusing how ignorant of American popular history all these brillant people that post here are of something that a German reporter would know. Of course Slate left out all the context needed to understand the conversatiom.
5.24.2006 1:19am
jojo (www):
the picture is one of the most famous in modern political history. the press of course knows it so Bush didnt need to explain it.
5.24.2006 1:29am
Guest J:
Dick Thompson:

"If you are including yourself and your friends in a sentence, you should always mention yourself last, not first. Very bad form."


This is a convention taught to grade school children to encourage humility and politeness. It is not a rule of English grammar; following it does not always lead to the most felicitous phrase. In my comment I deviated from this convention to place the parts of the compound subject in the same order as in Volokh's sentence. Here are examples of good English writing that would also merit your silly rebuke:

Judges 11:37 (King James version)
"And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows."

From the first paragraph of Great Expecations, Chapter 26:
"When I and my friends repaired to him at six o'clock next day, he seemed to have been engaged on a case of a darker complexion than usual, for, we found him with his head butted into this closet, not only washing his hands, but laving his face and gargling his throat."

From Fagles's translation of The Odyssey:
'His words were designed to get the better of me, but he could not outwit someone with my knowledge of the world. I answered with plausible words: "As for my ship, it was wrecked by the Earthshaker Poseidon on the borders of your land. The wind had carried us on to a lee shore. He drove the ship up to a headland and hurled it on the rocks. But I and my friends here managed to escape with our lives."'

If you still object to this usage, take it up with Fagles, Dickens or God. I prefer their prose judgment to yours.
5.24.2006 2:00am
Michael Hall:
Guest J: Are you serious? You amusingly object to Dick Thompson and state that "[i]f you still object to this usage, take it up with Fagles, Dickens or God. I prefer their prose judgment to yours." You quote "God" as saying that "[a]nd she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows."

Uh, sorry, but do you believe that if Bush uttered this very same quote, that Slate (and you) wouldn't jump all over it? Sheesh, clearly Bush isn't the most articulate person (and probably one of the least articulate Presidents ever), but if you want to be taken seriously by anyone who isn't already a hard-core Bush-hater, you're deluding yourself. Get real. You're quoting God...ha, you're funny.
5.24.2006 3:42am
SuperChimp:
Eugene,

These quotes are purposely ripped of their context. It's a joke. Get over yourself.
5.24.2006 7:53am
Charles Iragui:
Isn't the real question whether a joke is in good taste?It is possible to elicit laughter by saying "f**k". There is actually nothing particularly funny about the word. These Bushisms are similarly lame, though dependent on prejudice against the president, not embarrassment.

I support President Bush but I often enjoy jokes at his expense - in fact he's pretty good at telling self-deprecating jokes himself. Shouldn't good humor give its victim room to laugh too? Richard Cohen recently wrote an article in the WaPo criticizing on similar grounds Colbert's performance at the press dinner. The only difference there was that the president was obliged to endure the boorishness, while he can easily disregard Slate's petty attacks.
5.24.2006 8:13am
Eric Muller (www):
I'd go a step further than Eugene and argue that if the purpose of featuring this as a "Bushism" is to reveal him to be dumber than we think he is, its effect is actually just the opposite: it shows that he knows the names of several former presidents.
5.24.2006 8:29am
Just:

"It is also amusing how ignorant of American popular history all these brillant people that post here are of something that a German reporter would know."

Re-read the original post.
It didn't ask whether we knew what Bush was referring to.

It asked what was supposed to funny or inarticulate about the quote, whether or not you knew what the "door in the desk" referred to. Lots of folks ignored the directions, read other comments first, and looked up what they thought it was referring to.
If you tried to answer the original question, and not defend Bush on what you thought he was referring to, it does not mean you were ignorant of the Kennedy picture or of the background of the desk itself.
I am just blown away, however, by how many people would "censor" such entertainment, which some people out there would find more amusing than some of the stuff that passes for humor these days. Can't they take it a lil Bush needling, after all the unfunniness he's given us?
The cry to make humor "fair", coming from EV -- king of the silly cartoons whose funny message for the life of me escapes me (other than "Muslims are evil killers. heh!") -- really is a shocker though. Wasn't his whole point that we must be tolerant, that what I find a worthwhile message you don't but you must respect one's right to express it, that no one should be oversensitive -- lighten up Catholics and Muslims, and learn to take a joke poking fun at you. Now lots of folks don't find that crap entertaining either, but they deal. To say that Slate's Bushism's aren't funny (to you) or to call for "fairness" at this point, just kind of exposes to me EV's literal understanding of the First Amendment, but still not a real strong idea of how it functions in American society. Politically, I think he has revealed himself enough to expose his biases, and that's why diversity of background and viewpoint is still essential. Otherwise, I fear we'd be tolerating jokes against some religions and political parties, while remaining sensitive to the "fairness" and humor mimimal standards for a selected elite. Can't have that. heh
5.24.2006 8:37am
Hoosier:
I don't plan on getting into the Bush is/isn't and idiot debate.

But it would be depressing if the folks at "Slate" didn't know that John Jr. played "Rabbit hole" with this desk. Is there a biography of JFK out there that doesn't include one of these photos, as well as the "salute" picture? Do journalists read?

My favorite of these pictures was the one where John-John was trying to get the attention of his dad right after he'd met with Gromyko. JFK is talking seriously with Rusk, Bundy, and maybe McNamara. And Jr. has just stuck his head out of the hole and seems to be shouting or laughing.

This one gets to me, less because I'm a diplomatic historian than that because I'm a dad: Jr. didn't know what his dad did for a living, and didn't care. He wanted to play. My three-year-old won't let me say "I'm a teacher/professor." He says "NO! You're a dad!" So I hate to think of this little boy losing his dad, and being the kid saluting at the funeral.
5.24.2006 10:46am
jallgor (mail):
Guest J:
I am assuming you are not a litigator or someone who regularly has a transcript made of their speech. I can assure you that the most articulate sounding individuals often look ridiculous in a transcript. When we are listening to someone speak we often tune out the misplaced words. To a certain degree we even tune out the "ums" and the "ya knows" and the "likes" that many people inject into their speech (of course when taken to an extreme these things can be very distracting). When you read exactly what someone said you will be surprised at the number of technical errors in everyday speach.
5.24.2006 10:48am
Guest J:
Michael Hall:

Are you serious? You amusingly object to Dick Thompson and state that "[i]f you still object to this usage, take it up with Fagles, Dickens or God. I prefer their prose judgment to yours." You quote "God" as saying that "[a]nd she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows."

I would watch out for lightning bolts if I were you. Jehovah doesn't like critics.

The preceding sentence, like my attribution to God of a verse from the King James translation of the book of Judges, was intended as humor. I am, however, completely earnest in making my larger point: "I and my friends" is perfectly grammatical English. Despite generations of grade school etiquette instruction, such a phrase has been used in the finest of English prose.

"Uh, sorry, but do you believe that if Bush uttered this very same quote, that Slate (and you) wouldn't jump all over it?"

If the President starts bewailing his virginity, I will be too amused to object to his syntax or grammar, I assure you.

I provided quotations from three exemplary stylists of their times, each writing during distinct periods in the development of modern English: about 400, 165 and 10 years ago. Despite the vicissitudes of our tongue, each considered "I and my friends", or the analogous "I and my fellows", good English. Thus I showed that it is a useful and correct phrase with a long history in the best writing in English.
5.24.2006 11:08am
Just:
"But it would be depressing if the folks at "Slate" didn't know that John Jr. played "Rabbit hole" with this desk. "

Have we concluded then that the folks at Slate had a fairness obligation to include the full context and were just ignorant of the facts or didn't read the next line in the transcript?

I think some of you are missing the point of the humor.
5.24.2006 11:12am
Guest C:
EV: you should set your analytical engines to work on a Rush Limbaugh transcript. Or Fox News (which pretends to be objective). After all, they reach a tad more people than Slate. Methinks your outrage is, well, selective.
5.24.2006 11:28am
Tumbling Dice (mail):
The Bushisms are generally not funny, unless you are the type of person that gets a kick out of the tendency of Bush to "not talk good."

Is it really all that funny to read a quote that's "funny" only because it is taken out of context.

In summary, who really cares? Those who think they are smarter than Bush is will continue to read the Bushisms for their daily affirmations and no one will likely get hurt in the process.
5.24.2006 11:46am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
who really cares?

"Many a true word is said in jest" -- the danger is that readers may think the repeated joke reflects a reality. Not that Bush is a less than confidence-inspiring public speaker (one need only watch him on television to see this), but that he is actually inarticulare and unintelligent.
5.24.2006 1:37pm
Malvolio:

Besides, politicians' utterances have been taken out of context and lampooned for as long as politicians have existed. Otherwise, no one would remember "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it," "I discovered a place called Love Canal," or "It depends on what the meaning of 'is' is,"

Just to cover those three:

1. Kerry did vote for it before voting against it. The quote became famous because Kerry himself seemed to be using his own vacillation (arguably motivated by changes in the details of the bill) as some sort of political innoculation.
2. Gore did not discover Love Canal in any sense. The toxic-waste scandal was already making national headlines when he decided to hold hearing about it.
3. Clinton was positing that his prior testimony would not be perjurious if the question he was asked was interpreted as "Are you having sex right at this moment?" While literally correct, it was far from unobjectionable.

Nothing Bush has said comes anywhere close to the level of corruption evinced by those three remarks.
5.24.2006 2:35pm
Just:

"Nothing Bush has said comes anywhere close to the level of corruption evinced by those three remarks."

WMD?
We are going to war, not to help Saddam's people, but because if we don't, there's a good chance he will use weapons against us?

Listen, if you want to attack Iraq, sell it honestlty to the people. Don't justify it on self-defense (of America) grounds and then expect we'll all forget the reason we went in to fight there.
5.24.2006 2:58pm
Just:

"Nothing Bush has said comes anywhere close to the level of corruption evinced by those three remarks."

WMD?
We are going to war, not to help Saddam's people, but because if we don't, there's a good chance he will use weapons against us?

Listen, if you want to attack Iraq, sell it honestlty to the people. Don't justify it on self-defense (of America) grounds and then expect we'll all forget the reason we went in to fight there.
5.24.2006 2:58pm
gramm:
Let's force Slate to back down and end this atrocity once and for all.
----------------------------
HAAA! http://volokh.com/posts/1148410965.shtml#94108 Smithy, you're a hoot!
5.24.2006 5:52pm
Malvolio:

We are going to war, not to help Saddam's people, but because if we don't, there's a good chance he will use weapons against us?

I don't know your reasons for going to war, but Mr. Bush was polite enough to list his, which were numerous and two of them were the oppressive nature of the regime and the fact we were unable to verify the absence of WMDs.
5.24.2006 6:39pm
Just:

Malvolio,

I stand by what I originally wrote, paraphrasing the reasons we were given for the attack on Iraq.

This war was sold to the American people as a DEFENSIVE maneuver -- Hussein was a ticking timebomb, the next "Hitler" and if we didn't take action now, he had the capability to injure us with his cache of WMD's. There were also hints are direct links between Saddam's Iraq and 9/11.

Just how stupid do you think the working American people are? The Republicans were supposedly against mere peace-keeping missions, for smaller government. If we were just going to war JUST because of the "oppressive nature of the regime", because we wanted to help establish democracy and protect the Iraqi leader, how many Americans would have originally backed that do you think.

Don't you think many of them would have questioned, if that were the case, whether intervention in say Sudan would be more pressing in the immediate need of protecting people's lives? We know Hussein used poison gas against "his own people" before -- we didn't intervene then because of the "oppressive nature of the regime."

It was sold as a DEFENSIVE move related to 9/11, (even if such intervention was in the planning well before then) because that was the only way America, imho, the American people would have supported interferring in another nation's business like that. Only after the WMD "immediate threat" was proven false, were the ideas of implementing democracy, protecting women rights (!), etc. really pushed.

How stupid do you think the American people really are, Malvolio? Think again, my friend. Present your views for war honestly at the start, instead of trying to trick us with fear. We all ain't that dumb and if your reasoning is truly sound, then do the hard work and convince us.
5.24.2006 8:05pm
Just:

protect the Iraqi "people"
5.24.2006 8:07pm
Ken B:
Well it always irks me to learn I have been misled, even by a comedian.

There is another issue here though. For a lot of people Bushism are not a joke, they are amusing bits of evidence. I suspect they are for Slate. I have heard them used that way.

I will say they lower my respect for Slate and its standards.
5.25.2006 11:17am
Just:

"Well it always irks me to learn I have been misled, even by a comedian."


What about a President?
And it's costing us billions...

A little perspective people?
5.25.2006 2:09pm
CessnaDriver (mail):
The point is not that MonkeyBoy misspoke this one time, but to demonstrate the fact that he can't speak at all-if he's not reading it off of a page, he can't keep the simplest thing straight-like making the distinction between JFK and JFK, Jr. at age 2. Note in the picture the piece of candy in Jr.'s hand-his dad used to hide candy for the kids in the desk.

About the Resolute-the irony is that it is an everyday reminder of global warming! The HMS Resolute was abandoned in the sub-arctic, frozen in the ice for years while searching for the NorthWest Passage. It took 350 years to find the passage, and it wasn't fully traversed from one end to the other for another 50 years, and not again for another 67, all due to ice and snow making the voyage impossible. You can now go through there in a 28 foot sailboat for several months a year, and never see ice or snow.
5.25.2006 9:33pm
randal (mail):
Eugene - you make it impossible for me not to comment on these.

This guy is making a daily pull calendar of Bush quotes. You're really going to argue against each one? They're funny! A lot because any out of context quote is funny; a lot because Bush has a unique style; but none at all because it's an attempt to disparage the President.

Get a grip!
5.26.2006 7:36am