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Bushism of the Day:

Here's today's Bushism of the Day, "the president's accidental wit and wisdom," from Slate:

"So we'll bring our ideas, they'll bring theirs, let's clarify the differences, let's don't say bad things about our opponents."

Whoops, sorry, wrong President -- that's actually from President Clinton. The Bushism of the Day today is really this:

"Let's don't just talk about it. Let's actually do it, by passing the legislation."

Rats! Screwed up again -- that's actually from Vice President Gore. Here, and this time I'm serious, is today's actual Bushism of the Day:

"I tell people, let's don't fear the future, let's shape it." -- Omaha, Neb., June 7, 2006

As best I can tell, the only supposed flub -- the only supposed humor -- here is "let's don't." (Without that, the phrase isn't terribly rich in content, but neither are "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," or a wide range of other perfectly normal exhortations from political leaders.)

Yet it's a flub only in the sense that departure from the standard Northeastern/West Coast elite spoken English is a flub. If you search for "let's don't," you'll find it used routinely in spoken English, chiefly (as best I can tell from my searches) by people from flyover country.

The only usage guide I could find that discusses "let's don't" is "The Columbia Guide to Standard American English", which reports, "There are three negative idioms: Let's not stay, Don't let's stay, and Let's don't stay. [I infer that 'stay' is just an example here, and the idiom equally works with other verbs.] All are Standard, although Let's don't is more typically American than Don't let's, which is more typically British." Sounds right to me.

Steve:
"Let's don't" is indeed standard parlance in parts of the South and Midwest, although it's not quite as hick as, say, "might could." Bush will never be able to out-bubba the Big Dog, though.
6.20.2006 2:01pm
Stephen Perdue (mail):
I'm a long-time Slate reader and fan, but I agree with you that Weisberg's reaching to call this one a Bushism.

I wonder, have you taken advantage of your recent Slate contributer status to e-mail this critique to Jacob Weisberg for his direct attention? I would.
6.20.2006 2:08pm
te (mail):
Do you really want to go down the path of comparing the Shrub's verbal abilities to those of Clinton and Gore?
6.20.2006 2:15pm
Anon1ms (mail):
Perhaps the point to this Bushism is that someone born in Connecticut to a patrician family and educated at the Phillips Academy, Yale and Harvard would affect such a cornpone phrasing to his speech.
6.20.2006 2:24pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
As I recall, Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises uses the "don't let's" phrase several times. Hemingway's ear for speech was as good as anybody's ever has been, so it's likely that it was a common usage among the English upper class at the time.
6.20.2006 2:29pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
That should have been "don't lets", not "don't let's".
6.20.2006 2:33pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Hmm -- didn't Clinton go to Georgetown and Yale, and Gore to St. Alban's in D.C. and Harvard? True, Clinton went to high school in Arkansas and Gore went for a time to graduate school at Vanderbilt, but I'm not sure that this makes them that different from Bush in their educational history.

Also, is the phrasing really rightly described as "cornpone," a term that's generally seen as derogatory, as opposed to simply "regional" (and common in a large region at that)?
6.20.2006 2:35pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
Since some of the previous writers completely miss your point, I will ignore it completely and merely point out the following:

The "nothing to fear but fear ..." remark had real content in the context in which it was stated, namely a terrible depression. The point (I believe) was that the economy will do well if we all believe it will do well. This has content (and I think it is at partially true) even if I don't completely agree with it.

A better example of content-free blather is "Ask not what your country can do for you ..."
6.20.2006 2:37pm
dk35 (mail):
Well, I suppose I prefer seeing EV critize Slate for occasionally having to reach to find a Bushism of the day than reading EV call people who disagree with Bush's policy on the Iraq war anti-American. Progress!
6.20.2006 2:42pm
Tinhorn (mail):
Somewhat by definition, the "Bushism of the Day" must mean the "item, not yet used, at the top of the writer's current collection of amusing things Bush said." This doesn't mean that they will all be gems, but rather that this is the best one the writer had at his disposal today. The law of averages suggests that some simply won't be all that amusing. (Note that the situation would be different if, instead of going for one-a-day, the writer suggested on a one-off basis "Here's something wacky the President said.")

Thus, if you criticize the item, it should (logically) be because you believe there is an item that better qualifies as a "Bushism of the Day." So, what item do you think would have made a better "Bushism of the Day"?
6.20.2006 2:46pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
LTEC,

Heh. Only yesterday I was reading a G.K. Chesterton essay (one of his old Illustrated London News columns from, I think, 1930) comparing the idea of thinking optimistic things about the economy so that it will improve to Christian Science (still pretty big then), and linking them both to Hamlet's "There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."
6.20.2006 2:48pm
stevesturm:
If we don't fear the reaper, why shouldn't we don't fear the future?
6.20.2006 2:58pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
I guess the difference is that "let's don't" is one of the dumber things Clinton says, but possibly one of the smarter things Bush says.

I think Clinton earned his right to talk like a hick now and again by offering some intelligent commentary in between. I'm not sure Bush has really offered the same balance.
6.20.2006 2:59pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
If the majority of what any everyday person were recorded for posterity, I wonder how many Insert-Your-Name-Here-isms would result. Even in the case of the more educated portion of society, it'd still be quite high, I'm sure.
6.20.2006 3:05pm
Sasha (mail):
Tinhorn: If one criticizes the item, it may also be because one thinks the item illustrates what's wrong with the very idea of "Bushisms of the Day," as part of an argument as to why that column (or "Kerryisms," etc.) should exist at all. See Eugene's Slate piece, linked below.
6.20.2006 3:09pm
jallgor (mail):
Is using "y'all" cornpone? I think "lets don't" is similar to "y'all" If you are in midtown Manhattan the use of either will tend to make people think you are a hick (I am not saying this is a fair assumption).
In any case, it's a real stretch of a Bushism.
6.20.2006 3:18pm
SimonD (www):
In any case, it's a real stretch of a Bushism.
Mostly all of them are, lately.
6.20.2006 3:22pm
Medis:
Although I agree that this is yet another lame Bushism, something about it struck me as different than the Clinton and Gore examples. I have come up with two possibilities, which may interact. One is the: "I tell people . . .". It does seem to have the effect of underscoring the informality of what follows. The second is the relatively telegraphic phrasing of "let's don't fear the future, let's shape it".

Or perhaps I just can so vividly picture Jon Stewart saying this, with squint, crouch, grasping handgesture, and "heh-heh" included.
6.20.2006 3:31pm
Guest J:
I've disagreed with your recent criticisms of the "Bushism of the Day", but this time I think your objection is valid. The President used a standard American idiom.

That said, it's not a standard American idiom or off-limits simply because Clinton or Gore previously said the same thing. If Clinton or Gore had said something dumb that Bush later echoed, Slate would still be justified in mocking Bush for saying it, since Slate is a news site. Bush is President now, so it's his turn to take any fair criticism.

This "Bushism" fails because it's not really an error of any kind. It displays the ignorance of the writer, rather than the President.
6.20.2006 3:32pm
CJColucci:
Do the Dixie Chicks say "let's don't?"
6.20.2006 3:47pm
Hank:
If Bush were the leader of any other nation, Americans would uniformly be demanding that he be put on trial at the Hague for war crimes and for torturing people. So, who is more absurd -- Slate for criticizing Bush's poor English or Eugene Volokh for criticizing Slate for criticizing Bush's poor English?
6.20.2006 3:55pm
reading too many transcripts:
Clearly whoever mocks W for his "Bushisms" hasn't read many deposition transcripts. I don't care where the lawyer went to school or where they practice now, look at a few days worth of transcripts and you'll have plenty of --isms that make W read like a Professor of English
6.20.2006 4:14pm
frankcross (mail):
Well, the interesting point here harkens back to the Seattle objection to "standard English." Of course, many liberals objected that there was no such thing as correct English, with black dialects as good as standard, and many conservatives insisted that there was a correct English to be followed.

Now we have a conservative president using colloquial English (and lots of good southern conservatives use a lot worse). Where's the outrage?
6.20.2006 4:36pm
SeanF:
Silicon Valley Jim: That should have been "don't lets", not "don't let's".

You were right the first time. It's a contraction of "Do not let us," thus "Don't let's." :)

I must say, as a resident of the Midwest, that both "Don't let's" and "let's don't" sound wrong to me, and I don't think I've ever used either of them.

Except when singing a TMBG song. "Don't, don't, don't let's start. This is the worst part..."
6.20.2006 4:45pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
SeanF:

You're absolutely right. I have no idea what I was thinking.

As a native of the Midwest (and soon, I hope, to be a resident once again), neither usage sounds right to me, either.
6.20.2006 5:09pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Sasha,

That's interesting. There are some differences though. Here, I don't think the Bushism concept is really trying to dishonestly undermine Bush. I think it's become excedingly clear that Bush is immune to criticism regarding his style of speech. If anything, that's one of his more redeming features. So really, I think the Bushism concept is intended for a laugh, or for Jon Stewart types to roll their eyes, but not really to have a political impact.

If Slate really started something like a flip-flop of the day for Kerry, though, my feeling is that it would be pretty different. Particularly if the examples were all or predominantly disingenuous.

If the Kerry-ism were just Kerry talking like a Senator, that might be similar (particularly if Kerry had been elected twice in spite of this). If it were a flip-flop thing, though, then I think that would be more like a "Bush lie of the day," which would strike me as much less appropriate.

Not that I'm a big fan of Bushisms. I think they're intended as more light-hearted, though, than the Professor seems to take them. I also think that while many of the Bushisms can be defended, they do represent a pattern of incoherent or ineloquent comments, which is the main point. E.g., I don't think the whole idea of Bush being a bad speaker was manufactured; the pattern is real, and is probably generally exhibited by Slate's examples.
6.20.2006 5:14pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Jacob Weisberg has been pretty clear, I think, that the Bushisms are aimed at criticizing Bush and aren't just mere light-hearted humor.
6.20.2006 5:23pm
eddie (mail):
Anyone recognize the irony in Mr. Bush trying to paraphrase FDR, when all he has done since 9-11 is justify every action as a fearful response to that tragedy.
6.20.2006 5:51pm
R. Gould-Saltman (mail):
Cato the Elder: "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam".
Doc Volokh: "I don't understand why anyone would think this week's Bushism is funny".

rfgs
6.20.2006 5:57pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
I'm sorry, but can you tell me why you think President Bush -- speaking about fears related to future American competitiveness in a globalized market -- is trying to paraphrase President Roosevelt, who was speaking about the much more immediate fears stemming from the Great Depression? One can say lots of things about not fearing, and not all of them are paraphrases of FDR's famous statement.
6.20.2006 6:00pm
BobN (mail):
I think the point of this Bushism of the Day is not to provide yet another example of his syntax (it's been unquestionably determined he's the Mangler). I'm struck not so much by the grammar (which sounds more like the Queen's English than anything from the rural south -- not that they don't share some forms), but by the sentiment expressed. "Let's don't fear the future"? From a president whose primary campaign tool has been and is fear?

As a bushism, maybe it's in the stunning-irony category, not in the larger what-does-that-mean category.
6.20.2006 6:04pm
Guest J:
To "reading too many transcripts":

You say errors are routine in transcripts.

So what? Most people are fairly stupid. To be President of the United States, one should have a keen intelligence, seasoned usually by age well beyond the median, and sufficient experience of public life to develop outstanding fluency. Most Presidents have enjoyed the benefit of elite educations. I believe all of them have been native speakers of the English language. The job of President and election to it require persuasive ability and public speaking.

It's not absurd, then, to expect that the President should speak very fine English. One might reasonably expect him to be such an elite public speaker that he would perform better than all but, say, one in 100 of the people whose transcripts you read.

If you looked only at the one percent of transcripts containing the fewest errors, would you still find the quantity of errors common in Bush's public statements?
6.20.2006 6:15pm
Baseballhead (mail):
"Jacob Weisberg has been pretty clear, I think, that the Bushisms are aimed at criticizing Bush and aren't just mere light-hearted humor."

Public speaking is part of the job of the President. Poor public speaking skills are fair game for critics. That the President (and his people) have been able to turn his "plain-speaking ways" into an electoral asset is a credit to them. Who woulda thunk it possible?
6.20.2006 6:31pm
raj (mail):
From a grammatical standpoint, "let's not" is probably more correct than "let's don't," but I agree that Slate is stretching a bit to make "let's don't" a "Bushism."
6.20.2006 6:32pm
Seamus (mail):

Only yesterday I was reading a G.K. Chesterton essay (one of his old Illustrated London News columns from, I think, 1930) comparing the idea of thinking optimistic things about the economy so that it will improve to Christian Science (still pretty big then), and linking them both to Hamlet's "There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."



The connection between Christian Science and that line from Hamlet is closer than I think Chesterton realized, as Mary Baker Eddy used the line as one of the epigraphs at the beginning of the "textbook of Christian Science," Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.
6.20.2006 7:21pm
eddie (mail):
I am very hesitant to delve into any analysis of why Mr. Bush does anything. My opinion is that he does not "ruminate" over issues. I think he is given pre-packaged choices by his "subordinates", but hardly a "Socratic" analysis of all the facts. Ultimately I think he simply shoots from the hip and then reacts to the results. Just making a decision is enough for him. Being right is simply ignoring the result and "staying the course."

But let me take a stab at why he would want to paraphrase FDR: Bush thinks that he is as important a president as FDR and has set America on a course that is as profound as the course FDR took. I think that Bush only thinks that he "ain't oratorical enough" for such historical greatness (since it's those damn intellectual elitist historians who get to make that decision), so now he strays from his comfort zone and comes up with these empty phrases that have the patina of significance, but merely sound comical coming from him.

Fear is not the problem with the globalization of the economy. Fear is not accelerating or making the effects of globalization greater or worse.

Can you not feel the dissonance between the constant need for secrecy, for the erosion of our liberties, for the bankrupting of our economy, as a fearful response to a single attack and the President, like some member of a local business association, saying "Don't worry, be happy. What's good for business is good for you."

[Here's the rant]

And when all the evildoers (i.e. terrorists) have been killed and buried (including, all of their relatives and relatives of their relatives) and all competition has been subsumed under one gigantic global conglomerate, will we recognize the US as a beacon of freedom when there's only one choice? And won't all fear have been vanquished?

You know what I'm less afraid already. My problem was the fear of choosing. Boy am I glad somebody in charge took care of that.
6.20.2006 8:51pm
DaSarge (mail):
Wow!! Even way here in damp ever-so-blue Seattle, this phrase is in common usage. It was &is commonly used in Idaho and Montana, as well. (OK, Houston is very much damper these days, I know).

This is the sort of criticism ("Bushism") that tells us little about Bush and much about Weisberg. Only someone with little knowledge of the variety of English usage would find this phrase strange. It's sort of like a Parisian being surprised that French is spoken differently in Tours or Picardy; or a Londoner being surprised that English sounds different in Edinburgh, or Manchester -- or New York.

And y'all out there who got the notion a Texas accent and a tendency to malapropisms is a sign of low intellect just plain don't know much.
6.20.2006 9:26pm
Michelle Dulak Thomson (mail):
Seamus,

Aha! Found it again, the article for 10/18/1930, titled "Wall Street and Christian Science." An excerpt:

Now, for an atmosphere so atmospheric as that [he means the whole idea of people buying things merely because they're told the things are popular] the obvious religion was Christian Science, with its general suggestion of men creating their own atmosphere. To say that there was no such thing as a sick headache was part of the same mentality as saying that there would be no such thing as a slump; it was of the very essence of that mythology and genealogy that the wish was father to the thought.

But on second thought I'm not sure Chesterton didn't know Eddy took Hamlet for an epigraph:

It is an ironic jest that the motto of Will and Personality, and the hard-headed man who gets what he wants, is really a motto taken (of all people in the world) from Hamlet. It was Hamlet who said: "There's nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." From which we may deduce that Hamlet was a Strong Man and a Go-Getter and the biggest force in Big Business.

Since GKC had moved on from Christian Science to Wall St. here in the article, I don't know whether he'd actually seen Eddy quote Shakespeare; but the above does read as though he had.
6.20.2006 10:33pm
James Kabala (mail):
I think the reason "let's don't" is seen as cornpone or borderline nonstandard is that it doesn't really match standard English usage patterns for other verbs. "Don't let's," although undoubtedly used mainly by the British (and in the They Might Be Giants song "Don't Let's Start,)" actually has the greatest resemblance to the way verbs are generally made negative (e.g., "I don't believe how stupid this Bushism is!") "Let's not" matches the way verbs were made negative in medieval and Elizabethan times (e.g., "Judge not lest ye judged," "Waste not, want not," etc.). But "let's don't" is unique. Someone can say "Don't leave home without it;" in 1600 he could have said "Leave not home without it;" but he can't say "Leave don't home without it." Just my two cents; I agree that ususally Weisberg should have retired this feature years ago.
6.20.2006 10:52pm
thedaddy (mail):
What a bunch of self impressed twits most of you are.

GWB is smarter, cleverer, sharper than anyone of you.
You are so self absorbed in your "intelligence' and intellect that you can't see the forest for the trees (to coin a phrase).

for instance:
"Can you not feel the dissonance between the constant need for secrecy,..

THE SECRECY IS NOT FROM YOU, YOU SELF CENTERED KNOW NOTHING -- IT'S FROM OUR VERY REAL ENEMIES.

"...for the erosion of our liberties,..."

NAME ONE.

"...for the bankrupting of our economy,..."

WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF A BANKRUPT ECONOMY--
LOWEST UNEMPLOYMENT RATE IN 20 TO 30 YEARS?
HUGE INCREASES IN PRODUCTIVITY?
MANUFACTURING INCREASING?
BUDGET DEFICIT REDUCED YET AGAIN?
LOWER TAXES?


"...as a fearful response to a single attack..."

I BET YOU WERE WIPING UP AFTER YOURSELF ON THE DAY OF THAT "SINGLE" ATTACK.

"...and the President, like some member of a local business association, saying "Don't worry, be happy. What's good for business is good for you."

HE HAS NEVER SAID ANYTHING REMOTELY LIKE THAT.

BTW how can you say that he has bankrupted the economy and yet at the same time be good to business?

You all seem to be living on a planet similar to the "Bizarro" planet from the Superman comics, where everything was the mirror opposite of what it was on Earth.

P.S. I don't mean to pick on only the guy who posted the above quotes, I mean to pick on anyone who thinks in that way -- in your self delusions you are all dangerous to yourselves and to our country.

thedaddy
6.21.2006 12:54am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
>Jacob Weisberg has been pretty clear, I think, that the Bushisms are aimed at criticizing Bush and aren't just mere light-hearted humor<

No, not just humor. But still short, I think, of something like a "Kerry flip-flop of the day" or "Bush lie of the day" if carried out in the same imprecise manner.

True, though, I suppose it is intended to undermine Bush in a way. I guess the reason it strikes me as less than offensive is that I don't see the pretense that every statement represents a truly stupid comment, but at the same time, the fact that you can come up with so many dumb-sounding statements from Bush says something. Something which I happen to believe is true: The way Bush talks all the time makes him sound not very smart.

For me to really object to the Bushisms of the day, I think I'd have to disagree with that premise.
6.21.2006 3:01am
Bob Woolley:
"Let's don't wait," returned Dorothy. "I've heard of the Rigmaroles, and wondered what they were like; but now I know, and I'm ready to move on. ...

L. Frank Baum, "The Emerald City of Oz"


"'Oh, well,' says Ogden, 'let's don't borrow any of Black Bill's troubles. We've a few of our own. Get the Bourbon out of the cupboard and we'll drink to ...

O. Henry, "Options"


"Now let's don't have any heroics about it. You have the proposition. Now I am going to sleep. In the meantime you may think it over. ...

The Mad King, by Edgar Rice Burroughs


"Let's don't be serious, George," she begged him hopefully. "Let's talk of something pleasant." He was a little offended.

The Magnificent Ambersons, by Booth Tarkington


"Let's don't fall out about this again. I'll pay back the sheep. Work it out --" "Milt Dale, you'll come down here an' work out that fifty head of sheep! ..."

Man of the Forest, by Zane Grey



It seems to me that if an expression is used in fiction by Baum, Burroughs, Henry, Tarkington, and Grey, it's pretty hard to deny that it's legitimately standard American prose.

(All quotations found and snipped from a Google search of Project Gutenberg.)
6.21.2006 4:17am
Judy (mail):
If the main problem you have with Bushisms is that they nitpick at a person's public statements for no apparent public benefit, isn't your criticism of Bushisms itself guilty on the same charge?
6.21.2006 9:59am
Judy (again) (mail):
Okay, never mind. Just read your Slate piece explaining why you think it's worth nitpicking at the nitpickers. Apologies.
6.21.2006 10:02am
pmorem (mail):
You've all missed the point. It's not the "Let's don't" that is the problem. It's "shape the future". That's why you're not part of the reality based community.

The future is what it is, and quite beyond our meager shapings.

(opinions expressed herein may or may not be my own)
6.21.2006 10:55am
reading too many transcripts:
Guest wrote:

"You say errors are routine in transcripts.

So what? Most people are fairly stupid.

***

One might reasonably expect him to be such an elite public speaker that he would perform better than all but, say, one in 100 of the people whose transcripts you read.

If you looked only at the one percent of transcripts containing the fewest errors, would you still find the quantity of errors common in Bush's public statements?"


Sorry, I wasn't clear. I was talking about errors by the lawyers (many of whom graduated from the top law schools)
6.21.2006 12:18pm
Hamilton Lovecraft (mail):
Yes, this Bushism is a waste of the ink, er, pixels, it's printed with.

I'm with Mark Kleiman, though: "Churchill, after all, said that he had 'nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.' Roosevelt said that the nation had 'nothing to fear but fear itself.' Mr. Bush, masterfully combining their thinking, has nothing to offer but fear itself."
6.21.2006 12:34pm
KevinM:
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight : An African Childhood (Paperback) by Alexandra Fuller. Amazon.
6.21.2006 5:31pm
randal (mail):
Ok duh? No one got this? I agree it's not the best Bushism, but it works. It's clearly meant (by Jacob - not necessarily, but possibly, by George) to evoke "There's nothing to fear but fear itself." Comparing one to the other sortof sums up Bush's ineloquence. Sure, it might not be fair - not everything FDR said was as well put - but that's the joke.
6.23.2006 5:06am